EAM meets Emirati FM; Qureshi confirms UAE mediation

Jaishankar meets Emirati Foreign Minister in Abu Dhabi; Qureshi confirms UAE mediating between India, Pakistan

Qureshi told Gulf News that Pakistan had always welcomed third party mediation to help settle its disputes with India

Jaishankar reached Abu Dhabi on Sunday – just a day after Qureshi flew from Islamabad to Dubai to embark on a three-day visit to the UAE. Credit: Twitter/ @DrSJaishankar

Islamabad on Sunday for the first time publicly acknowledged the efforts being made by the United Arab Emirates to bring India and Pakistan back on the table of negotiation, although New Delhi refrained from confirming it officially.

The visit of External Affair Minister S Jaishankar and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi to the United Arab Emirates around the same time lent credence to speculation over the behind-the-scenes role Abu Dhabi has been playing to bring the two South Asian nations back on the negotiation table.

Jaishankar reached Abu Dhabi on Sunday – just a day after Qureshi flew from Islamabad to Dubai to embark on a three-day visit to the UAE.

Read | UAE mediating between India, Pakistan on Kashmir, says top Emirati diplomat

“(The) UAE has sizable number of Pakistanis and the presence of Indians is even higher,” Qureshi told the Gulf News in an interview on Sunday. “Obviously, looking at the interest of peace and stability in the region, it only makes sense that the UAE feels that two players (Indian and Pakistan) in this region, who are estranged, should sit together and talk out their differences.”

New Delhi so far refrained from making any official statement to confirm or deny the reports about the UAE’s behind-the-scenes efforts to make India and Pakistan restart bilateral dialogue, which remained suspended since 2013.

Qureshi told Gulf News that Pakistan had always welcomed third party mediation to help settle its disputes with India – be it by the UAE or any other nation. He, however, denied reports about his possible meeting with Jaishankar, reported the newspaper, which is published from Dubai.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in 2019 and 2020 repeatedly turned down offers made by the then United States President Donald Trump to mediate between India and Pakistan.

New Delhi has since long maintained that the 1972 Simla Agreement between India and Pakistan and the 1999 Lahore Declaration by the two sides had left no scope for the United Nations or any third party to play any role in resolving the “outstanding issues” between the two South Asian neighbours.

Jaishankar met the Foreign Minister of the UAE, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

“Another productive interaction with FM @ABZayed on our bilateral cooperation. Took forward our ongoing discussions on this subject, starting in February. The strong focus on post-Covid economic recovery will remain a priority for us,” the External Affairs Minister tweeted after his meeting with the Emirati Foreign Minister.

Jaishankar and Sheikh Abdullah discussed the historic relations between India and the UAE and ways to enhance cooperation, particularly in commercial and health fields. They also discussed the latest developments related to the Covid-19 pandemic, the efforts made by the two countries to contain its repercussions, and the global efforts to provide vaccines to all countries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the UAE Government stated. Abdullah noted during his discussion with Jaishankar that the UAE-India strategic partnership contributes to creating more opportunities for growth in commercial, economic, cultural and other fields.

Qureshi is expected to discuss “regional and global issues of mutual interest” during his meeting with Abdullah, tweeted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Pakistan Government.

Abu Dhabi’s envoy to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, recently stated that the UAE had indeed helped de-escalate tension between India and Pakistan over Kashmir and played a role in making the two neighbours agree to stop firing across the LoC. “Absolutely, they might not sort of become best friends but at least we want to get it to a level where it’s functional, it’s operational, where they are speaking to each other, where there’s lines of communication and that’s our goal,” he said at a virtual discussion organized by the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.

Also read: At least 7 police and rangers taken hostage in Pakistan protests

The UAE purportedly played a behind-the-scenes role in making the Indian Army and the Pakistan Army on February 25 agree to de-escalate tension and stop exchange of fire across the Line of Control (LoC). A day later, Jaishankar hosted Sheikh Abdullah in New Delhi and they purportedly had a discussion on the possibility of working out a roadmap towards restarting the stalled talks between India and Pakistan.

The UAE also purportedly hosted an under-the-radar informal meeting between top security and intelligence officials of India and Pakistan a few weeks back.

Qureshi confirmed to the Gulf News on Sunday that the two South Asian neighbours had ‘sittings’ in the UAE.

New Delhi had suspended its formal bilateral talks with Islamabad in January 2013 after Pakistan Army personnel had brutally killed two Indian Army soldiers along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

Though the Modi Government had in December 2015 agreed to restart the engagement between the two neighbours as the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue, the process was derailed by attacks on the Indian Air Force (IAF) base at Pathankot in Punjab and on the Indian Army’s brigade headquarters at Uri in J&K by the terrorist outfits based in Pakistan.

The Indian Army’s “surgical strike” on terrorist camps in Pakistan in September 2016, the terror attack on Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel at Pulwama in J&K and the retaliatory bombing by the Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft on the terror camps in the neighbouring country in February 2019 worsened the relations between the two nations. Islamabad also launched a global campaign against New Delhi to protest against the Modi Government’s August 5, 2019 decision to strip J&K of its special status and reorganize it into two Union Territories.

But when the armed forces of the two nations agreed to strictly adhere to the 2003 ceasefire agreement a few weeks back, it fuelled speculation about back-channel talks between New Delhi and Islamabad for exploring the possibility of restarting the stalled bilateral dialogue.

Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan, on March 17 said that the Narendra Modi Government in New Delhi would have to first make the move to restart the stalled bilateral dialogue between the two nations. The chief of Pakistan Army, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, on March 18 said that it was time for his country and India to bury the past and move forward.

India, however, put the onus back on Pakistan to create a conducive atmosphere for resumption of the bilateral dialogue.