India-Pakistan Peace Deal: Though neither India nor Pakistan has reacted over the peace deal, there is a media report that claims that the recent thaw in the ties, beginning with the ceasefire agreement on February 25 and the subsequent conciliatory statements by the Pakistani military and civilian leaders, is the outcome of the mediatory role played by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
According to a Bloomberg report, not only the UAE was among the first two countries that welcomed the ceasefire agreement (the other being the United States), but it was the UAE that had hosted Indian and Pakistan officials to negotiate secretly before the announcement of the ceasefire agreement.
The report mentions that the sudden one-day visit of the UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan to Delhi on February 26, the day after the agreement, was in the context of taking the thaw forward.
It mentions how in November, Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar met the UAE de facto leader and crown prince and de facto ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on a two-day visit to Abu Dhabi, followed by Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi the following month.
Roughly two weeks before the February 25 announcement, the UAE foreign minister held a phone call with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan “wherein they discussed regional and international issues of interest.” And just days before, India allowed 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.
#WATCH Pakistan wants to have good relations with its neighbours…It'd only be possible with peace & for it to prevail, issues must be resolved via dialogue especially that of J&K which has been going on for 70 years: Aftab Hasan Khan, Charge'd Affaires, Pakistan High Commission pic.twitter.com/AFh102BUFT
— ANI (@ANI) March 23, 2021
Pointing out what the UAE would like the next course of the Indo-Pak thaw, the report says: “The next step in the process involves both sides reinstating envoys in New Delhi and Islamabad, who were pulled out 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.”
Whether India and Pakistan will publicly acknowledge the UAE’s mediatory role remains to be seen. But the development fits into a clear pattern seen in the UAE’s foreign policy over the recent years – an active global engagement through both its hard power and soft power.
And in this power-projection, the UAE thinks to be the number one regional power in the Middle East, ahead of even its closest neighbor Saudi Arabia.
Strategic experts have pointed out that since 2011, the year that marked the so-called Arab Spring, the UAE’s foreign policy has been “pro-Active” in three areas.
First, the country has been very particular in strengthening its military power to defend its model of governance marked by tolerance and religious toleration, so important for the UAE where more than 80 percent of the population are foreign workers and which wants to be the region’s the largest and one of the world’s best financial and industrial hubs in a “post-oil economy”.
Safeguarding itself against the rising fundamentalism on the one hand and forces challenging the royalty in the name of democracy on the other, the UAE has spent considerably in modernizing its military and displaying this military power along with its allies.
It has opposed Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Islamic State in Iraq/Syria, and rebels in Libya and Yemen. As Ebtesam Al Ketbi, the founder and president of the Emirates Policy Center (EPC) in Abu Dhabi says, the idea has been to prevent “these threats from getting closer to our borders; they can then overwhelm us,” i.e., any delay on the part of the UAE would have put the security of the country at risk.”
Humbled to be conferred the ‘Order of Zayed’ a short while ago. More than an individual, this award is for India’s cultural ethos and is dedicated to 130 crore Indians.
I thank the UAE Government for this honour. pic.twitter.com/PWqIEnU1La
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) August 24, 2019
It may also be noted that like Saudi Arabia, the UAE had never allowed even transnational, non-religious ideologies or political parties from the region — such as Nasserism or Baathism — to take root within its borders.
It considered such ideologies to be rejecting the legitimacy of the nation-state and promoting the agendas of external political organizations or regional hegemons.
It has been of the strong view the circumstances that the types of Arab Spring create allow radicalism to thrive and internal struggles to develop.
Secondly, the promotion of “stability, moderation, and development” has been deeply reflected in the UAE’s overall strategic goals. Though the US remains its foremost strategic ally in pursuing these goals, the UAE has also courted other select Asian powers by concluding special “strategic partnership agreements” — China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore.
The UAE has never enumerated publicly the criteria for choosing strategic partners. But, it is understood that such a partner needs to have the capacity to demonstrate economic as well as political power and display high levels of trustworthiness through long-running and sustained diplomatic engagement.
And this “trust” is earned when the partner believes in an unconditional relationship. The UAE considers that good ties with the US should not be seen as unfriendly by China or good relations with Pakistan should not be viewed as hostile by India, and vice versa.
Thirdly, the UAE clearly wants global recognition as major world power contributing towards global peace and stability. The UAE has been participating in international peacekeeping missions since the 1990s and it has joined the international coalition forces in the region.
It has used its soft power of financial resources and infrastructural investments-capability to dissuade countries from resorting to military means.
In short, the UAE wants to be known as a responsible power playing global roles. In that sense, it wants to be unique in the Middle East. As Emma Soubrier, a visiting scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington says, “The UAE is cementing a national brand that had been in the making for a long time, simply taking it to the next level as a force to be reckoned with in the new Middle East.”
The features of the UAE foreign policy outlined above fit very well to the supposed mediatory roles by Abu Dhabi towards the India-Pakistan thaw. Success here adds to the UAE’s global profile.
Finally, of the UAE’s total population of 10 million (last census), 88 percent happen to be expatriates, those from South Asia constituting as many as 60 percent.
And among the South Asians, the Indians are the largest; they number 3.4 million, followed by Pakistanis at 1.2 million. Though the Pakistan-UAE relations have not been as good as before (following Pakistan’s growing proximity with Turkey and Iran) and Abu Dhabi last year imposed visa-restrictions on Pakistanis, they still are in a significant number and in that sense, a stable Indo-Pak relationship will have a positive impact on UAE’s demographic composition and domestic order.
As Jonathan Fulton of Zayed University in Abu Dhabi argues, the UAE recognizes now the importance of people-to-people ties in projecting the country’s soft power, and here although “it is starting from a rather shallow point as far as relations with Asia at the non-elite level are concerned, India and Pakistan are exceptions, as long-standing historical ties make for a deep level of cultural ease”.