UAE-Pakistan bilateral relationship on backfoot?

News Desk

Islamabad: Relations between Pakistan and the UAE appear to be on a sharp downward spiral in recent weeks, especially after Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan criticised the formalisation of his relationship with Israel by the UAE, people familiar with the matter said on the condition of anonymity.

This has been demonstrated not only by the arrest of pro-Palestine Pakistani activists in the UAE, but also by other Pakistani residents, sometimes for minor crimes. People familiar with the matter have said that about 5,000 Pakistani prisoners are living alone in the Al Sweihan Jail in Abu Dhabi.

It is likely that the UAE could impose stricter visa requirements on Pakistani nationals wishing to travel to the Emirate for employment. HT reported that Pakistani residents find it difficult to renew Resident Permits, and there has been a buzz about deportation, although there have been no reports of a large-scale exercise to this effect.

According to the sources, the Pakistani Ambassador in Abu Dhabi, Ghulam Dastgir, recently met senior leaders of the ruling establishment of the UAE in this regard — but was told to back off.

Interestingly, while Khan’s comments may be the immediate trigger, some of the moves by the UAE appear to have been prompted by the findings of his investigation into the 2017 Kandahar attack in which five UAE diplomats were killed. The people cited in the first instance said the UAE investigators concluded that the Haqqani Network was behind the attack and that Pakistan’s all-powerful intelligence intelligence spy agency was also directly involved. Back then the immediate reaction of Islamabad was to blame Iran for the attack.

Developments in relations between the UAE and Pakistan also need to be seen in the context of ties between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Islamabad’s efforts to involve Western Asian nations in issues related to its relationship with New Delhi have not gone well in both countries, people familiar with the matter added.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi warned the Saudi-led Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in August that if it did not convene a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the OIC to discuss the nullification of Article 370 of India in J&K, Pakistan would hold a meeting of Islamic countries to discuss the issue of Kashmir.

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are also engaged in tough debt repayment negotiations. In 2018, with Islamabad facing a current-account crisis, the Saudis extended Pakistan a package of $6.2 billion, including $3 billion in loans, and $3.2 billion in deferred payments. In addition to borrowing, Riyadh has frozen the oil credit facility extended to Pakistan.

And recently, Saudi Arabia has asked the Pakistani Embassy in Riyadh not to hold any public event to commemorate what it observes as “Kashmir Black Day” (27 October).

The worsening relations with the UAE and Saudi Arabia should worry Pakistan, which has survived through support from West Asia for years to come. It is this support that has prevented its isolation, despite sufficient evidence of its involvement in the promotion and use of terrorist groups to achieve its own ends. Loss of support from these countries will not only hurt Pakistan economically, but may leave it without too many friends in the Muslim world as well.

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