Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 June 2019

Indian and Pakistani residents in the UAE watch Kashmir standoff with concern

Close to four million residents from India and Pakistan live in the UAE

Abdul Ghani, a supervisor from Pakistan at the Al Ibrahimi restaurant in Abu Dhabi. 'Everyone is friendly here,' he says. Pawan Singh / The National 
Abdul Ghani, a supervisor from Pakistan at the Al Ibrahimi restaurant in Abu Dhabi. 'Everyone is friendly here,' he says. Pawan Singh / The National 

Wednesday’s flare-up in Kashmir has reignited long-simmering tensions between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan.

Now the fallout has rippled across the Indian Ocean to the UAE, where close to four million people from both countries are watching on with increasing concern.

Many are worried about family and friends back home and are frustrated at the closed airspace. But the story is also one of friendship, understanding and an appreciation for a troubled but shared history.

“I feel tense and worried,” said Baljeet Singh, 39, whose mother and father live in Delhi. “If there is an emergency, it will be very hard to get home.”

Mr Singh was born close to Amritsar, a city in Punjab province that’s near the Pakistani border. He said the terror attack that killed 40 Indian soldiers in February "broke his heart" and warranted a strong response from his government.

“India has attacked terrorists and not civilians,” said Mr Singh. “But Pakistan attacked the military, are provoking a war situation and should clean up their own mess. But I don’t have any grudge against Pakistan and there should be no further escalation.”

The February assault by suspected Pakistani militants was followed by Indian air strikes across the “line of control” that separates Indian and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir — the first since 1971. Pakistan then claimed to have shot down two Indian military jets on Wednesday, capturing one pilot and sparking a tense standoff. Both sides control parts of Kashmir but claim all of it.

All of the residents who spoke to The National said both leaders should step back from the brink, cool the simmering conflict and understand that most Indians and Pakistanis — especially in the UAE — enjoy good relations.

Another Indian resident from Punjab, Anil Grover, said it was sad to witness the deterioration as he has many friends from Pakistan.

Dr Anil Grover, an Indian resident, living in Dubai. 'No one wants war,' he says. Reem Mohammed / The National
Dr Anil Grover, an Indian resident, living in Dubai. 'No one wants war,' he says. Reem Mohammed / The National

“India and Pakistan were the same before 1947,” he said, referring to the partition of India in 1947. “The culture, people and the food are almost the same,” said Mr Grover, 51, who is a doctor and has been in Dubai since 2010.

“My parents are there and there is high alert in my state. People are worried … but this is all politics. The leaders are doing this just to please their own base. No one wants war and there is no enmity.”

Partition was a traumatic time for both countries, about 14m people were displaced and it still casts a pall over relations. Many families on both sides recall stories of forced migration, death and financial ruin.

“My mother’s parents migrated from Pakistan,” said Mr Singh. “I have come across horrible stories from my father and mother — losses of life and money. It was a painful thing to move.”

Seleem Roshen, 48, is from Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. His wife and three children are there.

“I am concerned and talk to them two to three times daily,” said Mr Roshen, who has been in the UAE for 10 years. “Everybody wants a peaceful solution but India doesn’t seem to want that. But we want a free Kashmir first so let the Kashmiri people decide.”

There are about 2.5 million Indians and 1.2m Pakistanis living in the UAE. Together, they make up about 40 per cent of the UAE’s population. They live side by side, working, eating and socialising together. Residents also took to social media during the week, with the hashtag #saynotowar trending on Wednesday.

At the Pakistan-run Al Ibrahimi restaurant on Abu Dhabi’s Electra Street, waiters from both countries bring bread, meat and curried vegetables to the tables.

“Everyone is friendly here and there is no problem,” said Abdul Ghani, 38, who is from Peshawar.

Mr Ghani suggested that Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, could be exploiting the situation in Kashmir to boost votes in the coming general election in May. “Pakistan is asking for evidence about the [terror] attacks but India gave no evidence,” said Mr Ghani, while manning the till. “But I’m not worried; war will not happen.”

Adnan Butt, manager of Al Ibrahimi restaurant in Abu Dhabi. 'Relations have always been good between the common man,' he says. Pawan Singh / The National 
Adnan Butt, manager of Al Ibrahimi restaurant in Abu Dhabi. 'Relations have always been good between the common man,' he says. Pawan Singh / The National 

Adnan Butt, 44, is the manager. His wife and two children live close to Lahore, about 300 kilometres from the border.

“I spoke to my family today,” he said. “Before they looked only at entertainment channels but are now watching the news. If something happens I’ll very much be worried — my mother’s eye operation is due so I was thinking to visit but now I cannot.”

Mr Butt, 44, said they do not allow political talk among staff from India and Pakistan but the atmosphere has always been cordial. “Relations have always been good between the common man,” said Mr Butt, who has been in the UAE for six years. He said he supported the actions of Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, the country was not afraid of war but does not seek conflict.

“We suffered for many years and are used to it. But the superpowers did not launch nuclear war so what can we achieve?”

Updated: February 28, 2019 05:02 PM

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