For a long time I held the belief that Pakistan wouldn’t recognize Israel come what may but this seemed to have changed under the current government especially after reports of yesterday’s visit to Saudi Arabia by Israeli Prime Minister. Here is how it may look and what may be the rationale for a future move by Pakistan.
Pakistan’s potential recognition of Israel will come as a post – 9/11 moment when America decided to invade Afghanistan.
Just overnight Pakistan decided to do away with Taliban government in Kabul which it had spent a decade propping up. General Musharraf’s raison d’être at the moment was that if we didn’t side with George Bush’s “You are with us or against us” ultimatum we should be ready to be “bombed back to the stone age”. Though it’s really hard to see how that would have happened since the US has always resisted from fighting a nuclear armed country besides primarily not being able to have bombed Afghanistan without Pakistani cooperation in the same place.
Despite Musharraf’s top military brass misgivings then the General threw the Taliban under the bus and became an erratic and reluctant ally. Since then Islamabad relations today with Washington are no better, Trump even wanted to bring Pakistan to account for an alleged 33 Billion $ given in aid. Trump administration went so far as to dent Pakistan’s biggest dream venture the CPEC by calling to stop IMF loans.
The calls to recognize Israel in Pakistan started in the Musharraf tenure and were then taken up by journalists and persons of influence every now and then seemingly probbing a public sentiment against the idea.
*What has changed?*
As the Middle East reeled under the Arab springs destruction with Egypt, Syria, Libya and Iraq public opinion turning inwards with bitter armed struggles Israel enjoyed a bubble of relative superiority where it didn’t need to be on the defensive but could go on the offensive as and when it chose. This is also the time when the case to recognize Israel could be made in countries like Pakistan without much of a backlash as the Arab world and by extension the Muslim world was trying to find itself.
The question to recognize Israel had never been one until General Musharraf’s decision to side with America in the war in Afghanistan. This was the age of ‘enlightened moderation’ that lent itself to everything and anything that was for disengaging us from our own backwards oriented religious conservatism that fueled the extremist jihadist enterprise and got us brownie points from the west. It’s in this light that our national conscience was driven to recalibrate our national character. And it did have a degree of success.
From Quaid Azam’s vision of never recognizing Israel as an illegal usurper entity to Pakistan’s foreign minister and lately the Prime Minister calling for a two state solution where we can recognize Israel conditionally if Palestinian rights are guaranteed is a paradigm shift not just in our policy but in our character as a nation.
Where Pakistani generations of yesteryears reminisced in our role as an integral part of the Muslim Ummah from the 1974 OIC summit to helping other Muslim countries in their struggles like Azerbaijan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan we transitioned into a nation with a Pakistan first generation. The interests and material benefits of Pakistan should be prioritized. Pakistan should be a country and not a cause. Pakistan should submit itself to US regional hegemony where it only extends it’s hands when it benefits it and should not indulge in other issues or if it does it should merely pay lip service. Such a policy shift has cost us heavily on Kashmir but that is a subject of another piece.
When Pakistan submitted to the pressure in Afghanistan it not only let go off it’s state actor and ally it had spent a decade in propping up but also transitioned in it’s outlook and that allowed voices that saw rationality in recognizing Israel as some sort of inclusion. Of course all of this is also built on the premise that ties with Israel could usher in an era of economic benefits which may propel Pakistan closer to the first world realm. All of this could easily be disconstructed but first we must look as to how the stage for Pakistan is being set.
The calls by senior news anchors and Journalists who have millions of followers on social media to normalize relations have been constantly guaging public opinion and the backlash. In effect when normalizing the debate they have always peddled the point of Pakistan’s self interests with the argument that other nations too look for their own benefits as is recently the case with UAE and Bahrain. That Pakistan should not be a lone wolf when others like Turkey, Egypt and Jordan have long been formally in recognition of the Zionist regime and that Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Morocco have been making open or secret overtures to it. This strategy here first by media persons and some politicians to talk about the need for Israel underlines a very important psyche of Pakistanis that recognizing Israel is tantamount to treason a small display of which exists on every Pakistani passport. That such national debates are triggered every now and then in the media means that a deliberate effort is being made to bring normalization in the public foray as beneficial to Pakistan. However no public institution or political party can openly declare this to be it’s objectives simply because of the massive public opposition to such a move that lies in it’s Muslim character to support the Palestinian brethren.
Where we have shifted from altogether shunning Israel as officially non existential to it being recognized if such and such a condition vis-à-vis Palestinians is met we will also be brought to recognize Israel but this time not as a benefit but as to warding off the greater danger that will arise from a possible Israeli alliance that will emerge with India and Israel.
When our Prime Minister Imran Khan said in an interview that Pakistan is under pressure ‘from countries with whom we have good relations’ to recognize Israel he was stating a fact. The fact is the same as the clandestine efforts by some gulf monarchies to spearhead this normalization on behalf of Tel Aviv to which Sudan had to be compensated monetarily and Kuwait refused. The recent piece by Eurasian times about Pakistan being shunned by UAE and other gulf countries and with a more favorable situation for an alliance in the Arabian Sea to coerce Pakistan may emerge where we would be left in hot waters to either recognize Israel or face threats to our interests. In such a scenario a diplomatic overture to Israel maybe presented to the Pakistani public as a victory that we would have pre-empted to ward off a joint Arab Israeli Indian alliance that snubbed any designs by our arch foe India and how it may have harmed our interests with the Persian gulf countries. After all most of Pakistan’s top brass has interests in Dubai and Riyadh with over a million overseas Pakistani workers. A move like this would then be sold to our public as having saved the day and thus any opposition to this would be seen as an affront to Pakistan’s national interests.
All of this doesn’t go without a precedent since that’s what we did when it came to Kabul in 2001. If this comes to pass as it seems to be then we need to guage as a nation whether we learn anything from history and a very contemporary one at that. If we really put our national interests as a rallying cry to recognise Israel then why don’t we start building our relations with countries in our own neighbourhood like Afghanistan and Iran? Why don’t we recognize Armenia which has a powerful diaspora with huge economic benefits to offer from the West? Or is it that Israel has its own players to vouch for it here?
We as a nation need to visit our policy if we want a principled stance on Kashmir from the world. If the foreign minister of a country can walk into our corridors and tell us that we should stop fussing about Kashmir as an issue of Muslim Ummah we ought not to do the same to Palestine but understand that in our stance for Palestine and never recognizing Israel we offer hope to the young man who furls our flag on the streets of our Sri Nagar in plain sight of more than half a million guns.
Azeem Sabzvari an engineer by qualification is a part time reader on regional affairs. When he is not engineering he is analysing stuff. He tweets at @AzeemSabzvari