Abhinandan Varthaman release: World leaders work behind the scenes to avert India-Pakistan conflict

U.S., Saudi Arabia and the UAE may have been behind Pakistan’s decision to announce the release of Abhinandan Varthaman.

February 28, 2019 10:23 pm | Updated March 01, 2019 01:11 am IST - NEW DELHI

IAF officials showing parts of a missile fired from PAF’s F-16.

IAF officials showing parts of a missile fired from PAF’s F-16.

A series of visits, phone calls and backroom diplomacy by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the UAE may have been behind Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s decision to announce the unilateral release of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, a move that appears to have averted an escalation in the situation between India and Pakistan for the moment.

In addition to the announcement, the statement by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi that they will study the dossier on Jaish-e-Mohammad’s link to the Pulwama bombing , as well as the listing request of JeM chief Masood Azhar which was filed late on Wednesday night by the U.S., U.K. and France at the U.N. Security Council had the desired effect on New Delhi, sources told The Hindu .

Trump’s announcement

While Pakistan maintains its decision was purely a “gesture of goodwill and peace,” and India rejected any “third party mediation” in ties with Pakistan, the first hint of an outside player came from U.S. President Donald Trump.

“[India and Pakistan] have been going at it, and we have been involved in trying to have them stop, and I think we will have some reasonably decent news, hopefully its going to be coming to an end… we have been trying to get them both some help, get some organisation and peace….” Mr. Trump, who was in Hanoi, said on Thursday around noon in India, hours before Mr. Khan’s announcement

In Delhi, the government appeared surprised by Mr. Trump’s words. Sources said that India and Pakistan have several channels of communication should they wish to use them, and don’t need third parties to come in. The sources blamed a ‘war psychosis’ whipped up by Pakistan on Wednesday, with its officials warning the international community of a “massive Indian missile strike” in response to the Wednesday attacks by Pakistan, despite the government making it clear it would not escalate the situation.

By evening, rumours and comments had gripped many world capitals, sufficiently alarmed by the build up in Pakistan, which included the shut down of Pakistani airspace, a full “red alert” for hospitals in the country, and raised security at Karachi port. Overnight, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was also in Hanoi, called National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and discussed escalating tensions.

Saudi intervention

Meanwhile Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir announced a visit to Islamabad with an “important message.” And in Delhi, Saudi Ambassador Saud Al-Sati met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. UAE Deputy Prime Minister and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammad Bin Zayed (MbZ) spoke to Mr. Modi and Mr. Khan from Singapore. In a rare public comment on twitter, MbZ said he spoke to both of the “importance of dealing wisely with recent developments and giving priority to dialogue and communication.”

Diplomats said that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, who visited both countries last week, and the Crown Prince of UAE had a keen interest in the situation. “Given the huge investment from UAE and Saudi Arabia in the Indian and Pakistani economies, these two countries that are both close to the Gulf region will not be allowed to go to war,” a diplomatic source told The Hindu .

On Friday, both External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Pakistan’s Mr. Qureshi will be in Abu Dhabi for the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting. But officials say they are not expected to meet as Mr. Qureshi is boycotting the inaugural plenary that Ms. Swaraj will address, and she will leave UAE shortly after her speech.

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