'Security concerns' push UAE to suspend issuance of visit visas to Pakistan
The suspension of visas by the United Arab Emirates to the citizens of Pakistan and 12 other countries was the outcome of alerts about possible attacks on growing numbers of Israeli citizens flocking to the emirates, people familiar with developments said on Thursday.
The people, both in New Delhi and other capitals, said on condition of anonymity that the visa suspension, which remains in effect since it was introduced on November 18, was aimed at giving time to UAE authorities to streamline and bolster their procedures to more effectively screen applicants from these countries.
Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who has been facing growing domestic pressure over the suspension of visas and detention of Pakistani nationals in the UAE, raised the matter during his visit to the UAE in December. A statement issued by UAE’s foreign ministry had then said the restrictions on visas were temporary in nature and due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
However, three different people said the move followed specific alerts about possible attacks on Israeli citizens, who have been travelling in large numbers to the UAE since the two countries normalised their ties in August.
“The foreign ministry’s statement appears to have been aimed at assuaging the Pakistani sentiments. There were alerts about possible attacks and time was needed to put in place measures to better screen visa applicants from certain countries,” said one person.
In a report on November 25, Reuters had cited a source as saying that issuance of visas to citizens of Pakistan and the other countries had been stopped over “security concerns”.
In the case of Pakistan, the focus apparently will be on screening visa applications from residents of the country’s so-called tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, a region where the Taliban and several other terror groups are active, and areas in Balochistan bordering Iran.
Some alerts had specifically referred to the possible infiltration of Pakistan’s Shias, the people said.
There have been reports since November in Iran’s state-run media about the detention of Pakistani Shias in the UAE. In a report on November 17, state-run Tehran Times sought to blame the detention of Pakistani Shias on the improved UAE-Israel ties. A Pakistani Shia lawmaker also recently raised the matter in a letter sent to the Foreign Office in Islamabad, the people said.
“It has been repeatedly pointed out the visa suspension is temporary and the aim is to improve the screening of applications,” a second person said.
Since the signing of the UAE-Israel peace deal, more than 50,000 Israelis have visited the Emirates, primarily for holidays. There are now about 15 daily flights from Tel Aviv to Dubai and Jewish community centre in Dubai is now a hub of activity.
Zikrur Rahman, a former envoy to Palestine who also did several stints in Saudi Arabia and closely tracks developments in West Asia, noted there seemed to be no blanket ban on Pakistanis who are either living or working in the UAE or those who hold iqamas or residence permits.
“There definitely are fissures on issuance of new visas, in particular visit and tourist visas to Pakistanis. This could be due to the fear of any possible attempt by radical Pakistani elements, particularly those with extremist mindset living in Pakistan’s porous border areas with Afghanistan and Iran, to infiltrate with the aim of damaging the growing relations between Israel and the UAE after the Abraham Accords,” he said.
“The Iran-Israel rivalry is known to all. There is all possibility that such fears could have been expressed by the Israelis and hence, the UAE temporarily stopped new visas in order to first coordinate with Pakistan on this issue, and evolve a bilateral strategy to deal with any possible harm to Israel-UAE relations,” he added.
Enter your email to get our daily newsletter in your inbox
- The rally was organised to celebrate the imminent arrival of India-made COVID-19 vaccines in Canada and featured nearly 350 cars bearing both the Indian and Canadian flags