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March 23, 2021

‘UAE brokering secret Pak-India peace roadmap’

Top Story

March 23, 2021


ISLAMABAD: A media report has claimed that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had brokered the February 25 Pakistan-India ceasefire.

On Monday, the US media noted “the Pakistan-India ceasefire marked a milestone in secret talks brokered by the UAE that began months earlier, according to officials aware of the situation who asked not to be identified. “The ceasefire, one said, is only the beginning of a larger roadmap to forge a lasting peace between the neighbours […],” the report also claimed. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry didn’t comment on the talks or the role of the UAE, while the foreign ministries of India and the UAE had no immediate comment.

While Pakistan and India have previously (on at least three recent occasions, in 2013, 2015, and 2018) recommitted themselves to the informal 2003 ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) and Working Boundary, it is increasingly clear that the February 25 announcement is qualitatively different – and provides grounds for cautious optimism. The India-UAE relations have significantly deepened under the Narendra Modi government – and improvement of India’s relations with Gulf powers is a key foreign policy achievement of Modi’s over the past seven years.

Based on both the reports, the UAE has played a key, constructive role in brokering peace between Pakistan and India. The next step in the process, the official said, involves both sides reinstating envoys in Islamabad and New Delhi, who were pulled out 2019 after Pakistan protested India’s move to revoke seven decades of autonomy for the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJ&K). Then comes the hard part: Talks on resuming trade and a lasting resolution on Kashmir, the subject of three wars since Pakistan and India became independent from Britain in 1947. Officials said expectations were low that the current detente would achieve much beyond the return of envoys and a resumption of trade through their Punjab land border. But this process appears to be the most concerted effort in years, and comes as the Biden administration is seeking wider peace talks on Afghanistan.

The UAE, which has historic trade and diplomatic links with Pakistan and India, has taken a more assertive international role under Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. It has also looks towards Asia policy as it strengthens political alliances beyond its role as a global trade and logistics hub. Several clues over the past few months pointed at the UAE’s role.

In November, Jaishankar met bin Zayed, the crown prince on a two-day visit to Abu Dhabi, followed by Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi the following month. Roughly two weeks before the February 25 announcement, the UAE foreign minister held a phone call with Prime Minister Imran Khan “wherein they discussed regional and international issues of interest.” And just days before, India allowed Imran Khan’s aircraft to fly over Indian airspace as he headed to Sri Lanka for a state visit — a practice suspended since the 2019 hostilities.

On Saturday, Modi sent a tweet wishing Imran Khan well after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 -- another sign that relations between the countries are getting warmer. After the ceasefire, the UAE was one of a handful of countries to issue a statement welcoming the ceasefire announcement, highlighting the “close historical ties” it has with both Pakistan and India and hailing “the efforts made by both the countries to come to this agreement.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price dodged a question on what role the US played in bringing the two sides together. “We will be paying close attention,” Price said on Feb 25. Foreign media reports further said that India will be participating in joint anti-terror drills to be held in Pakistan under the umbrella of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The drills will be held in Pabbi, home of Pakistan's counter-terror school, and the decision to hold the exercises was announced during the 36th meeting of the Council of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on March 18. Apart from India, China, Russia and other SCO states will also be sending their contingents to take part in the drills.