(This was originally posted in Al Jazeera)
The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) envoy to Washington has confirmed that the Gulf state is mediating between India and Pakistan to help the nuclear-armed rivals reach a “healthy and functional” relationship.
Top intelligence officers from India and Pakistan held secret talks in Dubai in January in a new effort to calm military tension over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters news agency. Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba said in a virtual discussion with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution on Wednesday that the UAE played 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”.
“They might not sort of becoming 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,” he said. Ties between India and Pakistan have been frozen since a suicide bombing of an Indian military convoy in Kashmir in 2019, which was traced to Pakistan-based fighters and led to India sending warplanes to Pakistan.
Later that year, India withdrew Indian-administered Kashmir’s autonomy, tightening its grip over the territory and provoking outrage in Pakistan and the downgrading of diplomatic ties and suspension of bilateral trade. But a series of moves this year suggests serious efforts at resuming dialogue between the two rivals are ongoing.
In February, the Indian and Pakistani armies announced a sudden and rare reaffirmation of a 2003 ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border dividing the Kashmir region between the two nations.
Days later, Pakistan’s powerful army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa called on the two arch-rivals to “bury the past” and move towards cooperation. In recent days, the prime ministers of the two nations have exchanged letters, saying they want “cordial relations”.
Meanwhile, a day after the joint ceasefire deal, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed flew to New Delhi to meet his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and noted that they “discussed all regional and international issues of common interest and exchanged views on them”, according to a Bloomberg report last month.
Afghan peace talks
Al Otaiba also said Pakistan should play a “helpful” role in Afghanistan, where the United States plans to start withdrawing US troops on May 1 to end America’s longest war. The Emirati official voiced concern that an abrupt US withdrawal would constitute “reverse progress” by serving the interests of “the more illiberal forces” in Afghanistan. The question is if the three parties (the US, Taliban and Afghan government) can reach an agreement that they can all live with,” Al Otaiba said.
“It’s hard for us to see a way to stabilise Afghanistan without Pakistan playing a helpful role,” he added. Turkey is due to host a peace summit for Afghanistan from April 24 to May 4 meant to jumpstart efforts to end the war and sketch out a possible political settlement.