The role of UAE in mediating peace talks between India and Pakistan has been in news for past few months. While the Pakistan flip flops continued with contradicting statements and unwillingness to acknowledge that J&K issue is off the table, resuming of functional ties between India and Pakistan as UAE spokesperson had put across, still seems a tough choice. There has been a softening of stands from both sides as far as India and Pakistan relations are concerned, starting with General Bajwa’s remarks about putting the past behind followed by DGMOs agreeing to observe Ceasefire agreement on Line of Control which is still holding. The exchange of letters between Prime Ministers on Pakistan National Day was a step in right direction, however the usual flip flop followed with Pakistan announcing resumption of trade in sugar and cotton with India which got reversed in 24 hours due to internal politics.
UAE’s envoy to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba said last week that UAE did play a role “in bringing Kashmir escalation down and created a ceasefire, hopefully ultimately leading to restoring diplomats and getting the relationship back to a healthy level.” He added, “They (India and Pakistan) might not sort of become best friends but at least we want to get it to a level where it’s functional, where it’s operational, where they are speaking to each other.”
It is in this backdrop that Pakistan announced that its Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi will be making a 3 day visit to UAE for bilateral talks starting Saturday. This was followed by a Twitter announcement by India MEA spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, “At the invitation of his counterpart, EAM @DrSJaishankar will be visiting Abu Dhabi on 18th April 2021. His discussions will focus on economic cooperation and community welfare.” This announcement gave rise to the speculation about a possible meeting between two ministers in Abu Dhabi as their visits are coinciding and both have arrived on invitation of the UAE’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Both Jaishankar and Qureshi came to face to face at the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process at Dushanbe, Tajikistan last month. However, they did not speak to each other, though there were rumours about possible meetings.
Both countries have publicly stated that Jaishankar and Qureshi will be meeting UAE Foreign Minister and other dignitaries to discuss economic issues, covid 19 and other geopolitical developments. Pakistan is presently going through a major internal crisis with Tehreek-e-Labbaik protesters holding the nation to a ransom. The announcement by President Biden of complete troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is also a major development as both India and Pakistan have high stakes in shaping the future of Afghanistan.
The UAE initiatives in bringing India and Pakistan ties to a functional level is quite unique. This is because India has always resisted efforts of third parties trying to make peace between India and Pakistan. However, the coinciding visits of the foreign ministers is important as there is a perceived momentum in improving bilateral relations and more suggestions could come from well wishers like UAE during such bilateral discussions which could be taken up by both countries. If it results in an impromptu meeting between both leaders, it could pave way for more engagements at bilateral level and restoration of full diplomatic relations.