UAE brokered India-Pakistan détente, says report; MEA maintains silence

UAE brokered India-Pakistan détente, says report; MEA maintains silence

New Delhi has consistently rejected third party intervention 

The Ministry of External Affairs refused to comment on the latest in a series of reports that the India-Pakistan détente, signalled by the ceasefire announcement by border commanders at the Line of Control (LoC) last month, was prompted by a back-channel dialogue between Indian and Pakistani officials, and facilitated by a third country. 

On Monday, international news agency Bloomberg reported that the two governments had begun to work on a four-step “roadmap for peace” facilitated by the United Arab Emirates government. The report said the surprise joint statement announced by the Directors General of Military Operations (DGMOs) on February 25, that agreed to end cross LoC ceasefire violations (CFVs), was the outcome of talks “brokered by the UAE” months earlier and that the visit of UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed to Delhi on February 26 also discussed progress in the India-Pakistan “peace” process with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar.

At least two Indian national dailies and an international portal have previously reported on the back-channel, allegedly led by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and interlocutors in Pakistan including Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa. In addition, the Bloomberg report said the ceasefire announcement was the first step agreed to in the road, and that according to an unnamed official, more would follow. 

“The next step in the process, the official said, involves both sides reinstating envoys in New Delhi and Islamabad, who were pulled in 2019 after Pakistan protested India’s move to revoke seven decades of autonomy for the disputed Muslim-majority State of Jammu and Kashmir. Then comes the hard part: Talks on resuming trade and a lasting resolution on Kashmir, the subject of three wars since India and Pakistan became independent from Britain in 1947,” the Bloomberg report said. 

The Ministry of External Affairs, which has declined to comment on the previous reports, maintained its silence when asked by The Hindu for a response to the Bloomberg story. Both UAE diplomatic sources and Pakistani officials also refused to confirm or deny the reports.

However, several developments in the past month have pointed to a broader peace process in play, not restricted only to the LoC ceasefire, which has held since February 25. 

To begin with, statements from officials in the past week, particularly from Pakistan PM Imran Khan and General Bajwa as well as Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla have been shorn of the customary rhetoric.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also wished PM Khan a speedy recovery from Covid-19 after he was diagnosed last week, sidestepping previous hostility between the two leaders and India has allowed Pakistani sporting teams to visit for the first time in three years. 

Next week, both Foreign Ministers S. Jaishankar and Shah Mehmood Qureshi will attend the Heart of Asia conference in Dushanbe on March 30, which is being seen as an opportunity for engagement. And the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation- Regional Anti-Terror Structure (SCO-RATS) secretariat has announced that Indian troops would be part of counter-terror joint exercises, due to be held by the 8-nation grouping in Pakistan later this year, which would be a first. 

Meanwhile an eight-member Pakistani delegation headed by Pakistan Commissioner for Indus Waters Meher Ali Shah travelled to Delhi for Indus treaty talks on Tuesday, with the Indian team led by Indian Commissioner Pradeep Saxena, to be held after more than two years. 

The UAE FM continues to guide the talks, said the Bloomberg report, which cited a recent telephone conversation Mr. Zayed had with PM Khan. While India has consistently and publicly rejected any chance of third-party mediation between India and Pakistan, there have been several offers, including one by former U.S. President Donald Trump, to facilitate talks. In February 2019, after the Balakot strikes and Pakistani action at the LoC that saw an Indian pilot captured in Pakistan after his plane was shot down, Mr. Trump had said he had spoken to both sides to ensure the pilot’s release. At the time, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan had also announced that he had telephoned Mr. Modi and Mr. Khan to de-escalate tensions and promote “peaceful dialogue” between the two. 

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