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Dubai: Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has lauded the UAE’s role in the Pakistan-India mediation leading to cease fire on Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir.

In an exclusive interview with Gulf News on Sunday, Foreign Minister Qureshi for the first time acknowledged that there have been ‘sittings’ in the UAE. “Pakistan has lot of trust and confidence in the UAE as the UAE has been a tested friend of Pakistan for decades. The ruling family members have been very close to Pakistan. We consider UAE leaders friends and well-wishers of Pakistan."

He further elaborated: “UAE has sizeable number of Pakistanis and the presence of Indians is even higher. Obviously, looking at the interest of peace and stability in the region, it only makes sense that the UAE feels that two players (Indian and Pakistan) in this region, who are estranged, should sit together and talk out their differences.”

Qureshi arrived in the UAE on Saturday on a three-day official visit to hold bilateral talks with the UAE leadership.

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Qureshi added that Pakistan always welcome third party mediation whether it is UAE or any other country. However, he denied reports about a possible meeting with Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishanker who is also visiting Abu Dhabi.

UAE Ambassador

Last week, the UAE Ambassador to Washington Yousef Al Otaiba had confirmed the UAE is mediating between India and Pakistan to help the nuclear-armed rivals reach a “healthy and functional” relationship. During a virtual discussion with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution on Wednesday, Al Otaiba had said 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”.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi during an interview with Gulf News in Habtoor Palace, Dubai. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Frozen ties

Ties between India and Pakistan have been frozen since a suicide bombing of an Indian military convoy in occupied Kashmir in 2019 was blamed on Pakistan, leading to India sending warplanes to Pakistan.

Later that year, India’s prime minister withdrew the occupied region’s autonomy in order to tighten his grip over the territory, provoking outrage in Pakistan and the downgrading of diplomatic ties and suspension of bilateral trade.

Ready for talks

Foreign Minister Qureshi said that Pakistan is ready to resume bilateral talks but only after India restores the ‘original’ status of Jammu and Kashmir. He also condemned the military lockdown in Jammu and Kashmir in India. He added that there were a lot of resentment simmering even within India on this issue.

Given the situation, he said: “Now, we have to see what the way forward is and how we can sit and talk as two neighbours to sort out our issues. I can assure you that Pakistan is ready to talk, provided India revisits the decision on Jammu and Kashmir, which in our opinion is not only illegal but also unilateral.”

Pakistan’s role in Afghan peace

Foreign Minister Qureshi said that Pakistan has been a strong advocate of peace, stability and reconciliation in Afghanistan. “We have played our role and that role led to the Doha peace agreement between US and Taliban, and then subsequently to the commencement of intra-Afghan negotiations and finally moved on to the rules of procedure and engagements.

“People in Afghanistan and around the world want things to move further as they want to see a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. We feel in Pakistan that the Afghans has suffered a lot for four decades. They paid huge price in human and economic terms.

“Similarly, Pakistan also suffered a lot because of war against terrorism. We lost 83,000 lives in the fight against terrorism and suffered economic losses to the tune of $126 billion and I am not even counting the lost economic opportunities and possibilities of opening of regional connectivity,” he said.

He said that withdrawal of US troops would not have been possible if Pakistan had not played a positive, constructive and facilitating role.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi during his interview with Ashfaq Ahmed, Senior Assistant Editor, Gulf News, in Dubai on Sunday, April 18, during his three-day official visit to UAE. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Relations with US

When asked whether there has been a shift in Pakistan’s foreign policy as the country is leaning more towards Russia and the Central Asian States, Foreign Minister Qureshi promptly said: “No. US has always been important player and will remain important global player. Pakistan is not oblivious to the fact that the US is a global power militarily, in economy and even in the field of technology. We have been the most allied of allies, as we always want a good relationship with the US."

Thaw in relations with Russia

“I am also very pleased that the thaw that has taken place between Pakistan and the Russian Federation. Russian Foreign Minister’s visit to Islamabad was very productive for both sides as we had excellent discussions. I am very satisfied on the new path that we are carving out to build our relationship with Russian Federation and the Central Asian countries. This will open up new opportunities  and new markets for Pakistan. My comprehensive approach for a better diplomatic engagements across the world is now paying off,” he explained.

Qureshi further elaborated that apart from US and Russia, Pakistan is also looking at improving relations with other countries. “We have recently signed a strategic engagement plans with the European Union. We also have excellent relations within the Muslim world and we want to cement these relations. I cherish the fact that Pakistan maintained excellent relations with all Muslim countries despite some challenges in the OIC countries.

French caricatures issue

On the recent mass protests and unrest created in the country by religious group Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan after their leader was arrested by the police for threatening to launch a protest campaign against the government if it fails to expel the French diplomats from the country on the issue of caricatures of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), Qureshi said that the government would never allow a handful of people to kill innocent people, burn properties and bring the country to the standstill. “The government took firm action and proscribed the TLP sending clear message that no one can challenge the writ of the government.”

At the same time, he made it clear, the Pakistan government strongly condemn and always raise strong voice against those making caricatures of Prophet (PBUH). “We always took strong position against those who try to hurt our sentiments."