IN the field of international relations, sometimes differences between traditional allies do crop up, and it requires deft diplomacy to resolve these issues before they start to have a damaging effect on relations. Concerning the suspension of UAE visas for Pakistanis — as well as around a dozen other mostly Muslim-majority states — that took effect last month, the Emirati government has assured Pakistan that the curbs are “temporary”.
The foreign minister was recently in the UAE and took up the issue with Emirati officials, and the Foreign Office spokesman said on Sunday that Abu Dhabi had assured Islamabad that the restrictions were put in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, the UAE foreign minister issued a warmly worded statement hailing ties between his country and Pakistan. These are of course welcome developments, as after news of the ban emerged there were rumours circulating over the nature of the visa suspension. For example, it was being conjectured that the changing geopolitical situation could have been behind Abu Dhabi’s decision. Specifically, the UAE’s acceptance of Israel came as a bombshell in September, while rumours were circling that many foreign friends of Pakistan were also pressuring this country to recognise Tel Aviv. However, if the ban is indeed about Covid-19 — doubts still remain — then the UAE must communicate to Pakistan the steps it needs to take to resolve the issue and ensure that Pakistanis can travel to the Emirates without hindrance.
But questions will linger on about why Pakistan and the other states were singled out for the visa ban. After all, this country, with some 459,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, is by no means more of a threat to the UAE’s health system than India, which has just crossed the grim milestone of over 10m Covid-19 cases, or the US, which tops the global total with nearly 18m cases. Neither of these countries was in the list of countries whose nationals were barred from being issued new UAE visas.
Indeed, the matter is a serious one for Pakistan, as nearly 1.5m citizens of this country live and work in the sheikhdom. While such economic and political ties are important for Pakistan, it is also true that foreign policy decisions must be made on the basis of national interest. The state needs to explain to its foreign allies that while it values ties with them, Pakistan will not be pressured into taking decisions.
Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2020