Pakistan has refused to engage in backdoor diplomacy with India after some powerful countries, as well as certain Muslim nations, sought de-escalation in the brewing tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours over Kashmir.
Prime Minister Imran Khan was also requested to tone down his verbal attacks on his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, in which he equated the latter with Adolf Hitler.
However, Pakistan has turned down the requests and made it clear that it would only engage with India through quiet or conventional diplomacy, after New Delhi is persuaded to meet certain conditions, said officials who are privy to the development.
These conditions include the lifting of the curfew and other restrictions imposed in Indian-administered Kashmir, a day before India stripped the disputed region of its special status on August 5.
When the deputy foreign minister of Saudi Arabia and the foreign minister of UAE travelled to Islamabad on September 3, they came with a “message” on behalf of their leadership as well as some other powerful countries, urging Pakistan to engage in backchannel diplomacy with India.
Saudi Deputy Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah al-Nahyan met both Prime Minister Khan and Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa during their daylong trip.
They also held a meeting with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and other senior officials.
“The discussions were so confidential that only top officials of the foreign ministry were allowed to sit in those meetings,” said an official who requested anonymity.
According to the official, both the Saudi and UAE diplomats conveyed their willingness to play a role in defusing tensions between Pakistan and India.
One of the proposals on the table was to encourage both countries to hold backdoor talks with each other.
While the international interlocutors were willing to persuade India to ease some of the restrictions imposed in Indian-administered Kashmir, they requested that Pakistan stop targeting Modi.
Since August 5, Prime Minister Khan has repeatedly targeted his Indian counterpart, questioning his links with Hindu organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and even equating Modi with Hitler.
The Indian prime minister, during one of his telephone conversations with US President Donald Trump, complained about Khan’s blistering verbal attacks.
While those international efforts helped prevent serious escalation in tensions, as mentioned by Trump recently, Pakistan refused to agree to any kind of engagement with India.
After the Pulwama incident that led the two countries on the brink of war, Pakistan, with the help of international players, engaged with India through backchannels to prevent further escalation in tensions.
However, this time, Pakistan has made it clear that it would not engage in a dialogue with India unless there was a third party intervention and guarantees.
Foreign Office spokesperson Dr Mohamed Faisal, at his last weekly briefing, had categorically said that there is no backdoor diplomacy under way with India to normalise the situation.
Pakistan’s tougher stance is aimed at capitalising the positive momentum it has gained in Kashmir diplomacy.
The opinion within the corridors of power is that Pakistan should continue with this approach during the upcoming UN General Assembly session in New York.
Prime Minister Khan has already announced that in his address on September 27 at the UN assembly session, he would “expose India’s illegal move” in Kashmir.
However, at the same time, international players have not yet given up efforts to encourage both sides to open some channel of communication.
The issue of Kashmir will certainly figure prominently during Prime Minister Khan’s two-day trip to Saudi Arabia that will start from Thursday (September 19).
His visit is seen as significant against the backdrop of the ongoing tensions between Pakistan and India.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman has spoken with Khan at least four times by telephone since August 5.
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