With Pakistan receiving a major diplomatic setback on its Kashmir approach as Saudi Arabia has categorically asked the country to resolve it bilaterally, Islamabad has been left with no significant traditional support base in the Gulf region as UAE has already asked the country to find solutions to the issue through dialogue with India.
The Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan has lingered since independence. Pakistan insists on adherence to UNSC resolutions and welcomes third-party mediation, while India, post the Shimla accord and Lahore declaration, reiterates the subject is bilateral.
Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed growth, development and peace, while Pakistan Occupied J&K (POJK), including Gilgit Baltistan, face suppression from Rawalpindi as also extreme poverty with zero development. Historically, whenever a dignitary visited either New Delhi or Islamabad, Kashmir was always mentioned in the joint declaration. The statement varied based on the nation’s view. The other country waited to counter.
India outgrows Pakistan’s claim on Kashmir
In recent years India has outgrown Pakistan’s claims on Kashmir aware that no global entity can push India to accept what it does not desire. Further, Indian development and diplomacy has risen to such heights that it is now involved in resolving major global crises, considering Pakistan a pinprick. As External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said, “No major issue in the world is decided without some consultation with India.”
Added is the Indian economy, which is 10 times that of Pakistan. Hence, neither Pakistan nor POJK is mentioned in any joint communique issued after any visit to India, which occurs frequently. The opposite is the story of Pakistan, where visits are rare, since the country has nothing to offer. Having fed its populace with a false narrative of repression in Kashmir and the desire of Kashmiris to merge with Pakistan on religious grounds, no joint declaration is complete without a mention of Kashmir and UNSC resolutions. The same theme is adopted whenever the Pakistan PM visits abroad.
The reality is that Pakistan is sinking in its own morass of debt and mismanagement of the economy. It had historically banked on Middle East nations for financial as also diplomatic support on Kashmir. However, much has changed in the past few years.
Riyadh’s counsel to Islamabad  
In February 2019, five days after the Pulwama attack, Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, visited Islamabad. He was scheduled to visit India next. The joint communique issued on his Islamabad visit said, “(Saudi Arabia) praised efforts of PM Imran Khan for dialogue with India and the opening of the Kartarpur corridor…. Stressing that dialogue is the only way to ensure peace and stability in the region to resolve outstanding issues.”
Direct dialogue was mentioned, possibly for the first time, without a reference to UNSC resolutions and third-party mediation. Regional tensions were then at a peak, with the Balakot strike on the cards. The crown prince had to return to Riyadh for a day, prior to flying to India, thereby displaying that the two visits were not interconnected.
The joint declaration issued in Delhi said, “(PM Modi and the Crown Prince) condemned in the strongest terms, the recent terrorist attack on Indian security forces on February 14, 2019, in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir. Both sides called on all countries to renounce the use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy.”
It also included, similar to the comment in Pakistan, “appreciated consistent efforts made by PM Modi since May 2014 including Prime Minister’s personal initiatives to have friendly relations with Pakistan.” Saudi Arabia had then been attempting to balance its ties with both nations. It promised a $5 Billion investment to Pakistan while a $100 Billion to India. A lot has changed since then.
This got reflected in the joint statement issued post the visit of Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif to Riyadh last week. It said, “The two sides (Riyadh and Islamabad) stressed on the importance of dialogue between Pakistan and India to resolve the outstanding issues between the two countries, especially the J&K dispute to ensure peace and stability in the region.”
The statement backed the Indian approach of the Kashmir issue being bilateral. Pakistan media chose to downplay the joint statement, highlighting the Saudi promise of investing $5 billion into their collapsing economy. The fact remains that Pakistan realizes that its traditional support base has eroded.
UAE’s snub to Pakistan on Kashmir
In January 2023, Shehbaz Sharif as Pakistan’s Prime Minister visited Abu Dhabi. The joint statement, released by UAE, made no mention of Kashmir. Shehbaz Sharif commented on return to Islamabad, “I have requested Mohammed bin Zayed to bring the two countries to the talking table and I gave my word of honour that we will be talking to Indians with sincerity of purpose.” Whether this was actually discussed remains unknown. This visit was a turning point in the ties of India and Pakistan with West Asia.
Saudi Arabia representatives did not attend the G-20 preliminary meeting in Srinagar last year, however, its private tourism representatives were present. It gave no reason for its absence. Representatives of UAE and Oman attended. In April last year, UAE stated its intent to invest in developing shopping malls and office infrastructure in Srinagar. The same would add thousands of jobs for the region. India welcomed this announcement.
For Pakistan, UAE investing in Kashmir was a diplomatic setback. Writing for the Middle East Eye, Sal Ahmed from Karachi echoed Pakistan’s concerns by saying, “Many believe Kashmir is set to meet a fate similar to Palestine's, with some Arab and Islamic countries withdrawing their support for the Muslim population's cause in order to build better economic and diplomatic relations with India.”
Pakistan’s traditional support base has eroded over the years. Simultaneously, India has outgrown Pakistan and its claims on Kashmir. India raises global issues while Islamabad has nothing to offer, hence harps on Kashmir.   
*** The writer is a security and strategic affairs commentator; views expressed are his own