The Pakistani foreign minister on Sunday rebutted reports on backdoor diplomacy with arch-rival India, saying Islamabad is ready for talks if New Delhi reverses its August 2019 decision of scrapping the longstanding special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
“I want to make it clear that there is no official back-channel diplomacy with India,” Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a press conference in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). He is in the Gulf state on a three-day visit.
“What’s the need for backdoor diplomacy? Come to the table and talk about Kashmir, Sir Creek, and water issues,” he said, referring to a slew of land, sea and water disputes between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.
His remarks came days after Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the US, confirmed that Abu Dhabi is mediating between New Delhi and Islamabad to help them reach a “healthy and functional” relationship.
Addressing a virtual session with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Otaiba said his country had a role behind the recent cease-fire at the Line of Control (LoC), the de-facto border that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, which could get relations back to a “healthy level.”
Meanwhile, the coinciding visits of Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers to the Gulf state sparked speculations about a secret meeting between the two. The two sides, nonetheless, denied any scheduled interaction.
Senior Pakistani and Indian intelligence officials, according to local and international media reports, held a series of secret meetings in Dubai in January this year in an attempt to stem the escalating tensions.
Last month, the two militaries agreed to honor the 2003 cease-fire along the LoC, followed by an exchange of letters between the two premiers, which was widely viewed as an outcome of the backdoor diplomacy.
Pakistan’s Economic Coordination Committee, the country’s top economic decision-making body, also allowed limited imports of sugar, cotton and wheat from India, a decision which was deferred the next day.
“Pakistan has never refused to the talks but before coming to the table, there should be an end to the atrocities against Kashmiris,” Qureshi said, adding that it cannot turn a blind eye to the situation in Indian-administered Kashmir. “If India reviews its August 2019 step, then we are ready for the talks,” he reiterated.
On Aug. 5, 2019, the Indian government revoked Article 370 and other related provisions from its Constitution, scrapping the country’s only Muslim-majority state with its autonomy. It was also split into two federally administered territories.
Islamabad, in turn, suspended trade ties and downgraded diplomatic relations with New Delhi.
Meanwhile, the Jamat-e-Islami, one of Pakistan’s mainstream religious parties, criticized the government for “holding backdoor” talks with India.
Senator Sirajul Haq, its chief, said the nation rejects UAE-brokered backdoor diplomacy on Kashmir. Talking to reporters in northwestern Nowshera district, he termed the reported diplomacy a “night raid” on the Kashmir cause.