We are so wrapped up in what is good for everyone else; that we are losing sight of what is good for us as a nation. GRAPHIC: ZAHRA PEER
Hatred towards Israel and the refusal to recognise or establish diplomatic relations with this country is no new phenomenon to Muslim countries in Asia. This abomination is based on feelings of Islamic solidarity with Arab countries and a sense of religious belonging to the global Islamic community.
In recent decades, Muslim countries have experienced an increase in radical thinking. A major factor for this emerging trend is the belief that Jews, Zionism, and Israel are anti-Islam, anti-Arab and pro-American. Radical Islamic circles exert pressure on their respective government to become involved in worldwide Islamic issues – above all, they want attention to be given to Palestine and they demand support for Arab countries’ struggle against Israel.
However in my opinion, this is a radical phenomenon.
I don’t see a single reason as to why Pakistan should not review its ties with Israel.
Why should we ban ties with Israel on the basis of the Israel-Arab conflict when many Arab countries have a good relationship with Israel?
We are taught two fundamental things in our history classes – that Israel and India are the enemy. Granted, we have been at war with India three times, but what’s wrong with Israel? Pakistan and Israel don’t have a conflict area and have never been at war with each other. What people don’t understand is that we are losing out by not maintaining ties with Israel.
If you think proposing good relations with Israel is a novel phenomenon, just take a look at Pakistan’s recent history.
History of Pakistan’s ties with Israel
Our history is inundated with meetings and good relations with Israeli officials.
The meeting in Istanbul between Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Kasuri was not the only meeting between Pakistani and Israeli officials. Since the days of Pakistan’s first foreign minister, Sir Zafrullah Khan, every major Pakistani leader has taken a realistic approach towards Israel, interacted with its representatives, and even adopted positions that were consistent with Israeli interests.
It is not only Benazir Bhutto who was considered as pro-Western; Nawaz Sharif’s primer-ship in 1992 and 1997 are considered the golden time in Israel-Pak relations
In 1992, the Israeli delegation to the United Nations had to decide whether to support Pakistan’s election to the Security Council. Yaacobi favoured it, and after receiving permission from the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, the Israeli delegation voted affirmatively. This paved the way to a series of interactions between Yaacobi and the Pakistani UN ambassador, Jamshi Merkar, who thanked the Israeli representative for his support.
Then, in 1993 vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, Isi Leibler, visited Islamabad between 12-16 February. This trip was coordinated with the foreign ministries of Israel and Australia (Leibler being an Australian citizen) and with the state department. Again, it was Pakistani ambassador Sayyidah Abidah Hussein who arranged a meeting for Leibler with Shahabaz Sharif. Leibler told him that a change in Pakistan’s approach toward Israel would help improve Pakistan’s deteriorating image in the United States.
At the end of the meeting, the two agreed that further contact between them would be arranged via Pakistan’s ambassador in London.
About two months later, on 19 April 1993, Leibler met with the Pakistani high commissioner in London, but it was ill-timed. Just one day prior to this, political changes had taken place in Pakistan and prime minister Nawaz Sharif had been removed from office.
A few years later, on 29 October 1998, Weizman met with Pakistani president Muhammad Rafiq Tarrar at a reception in Ankara marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of modern Turkey. According to press reports, Tarrar approached Weizman, shook his hand, and expressed his hope that “one day we will meet again.”
And then came the time of Gen Musharraf. On September 1, 2005, a public meeting was held in Istanbul between the then Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom and his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Kasuri. Shalom was euphoric and said the meeting was a “source of great encouragement and hope for the Israeli people and aids in strengthening the moderates on the Palestinian side.” The Israeli journalists present were also swept up in the exaggerated excitement and called it a “historic meeting.” They said it was a Pakistani “gift” to Israel for evacuating its settlements in Gaza, which was taking place at that time.
Soon after, during a visit to the United States, Musharraf agreed to be the guest of honour at an American Jewish Congress dinner held in New York on September 17. Musharraf’’s speech on this occasion dealt with Islamic-Jewish relations throughout history. As for Israel, he repeated the familiar refrain that progress in relations depended on “progress in the peace process and the establishment of a Palestinian State.”
Thus, it is evident that in the past, Pakistan and Israel have enjoyed good ties.
Why we need to foster good ties
If we carry good relations with Israel it can help us win unfailing support from many developed countries – Israel has the strongest lobbying powers in the world. If Israel and Pakistan are on good terms, we can use this lobbying to foster healthy relationships with other countries, because other than Saudi Arabia, no major Arab country supports Pakistan.
The main factors preventing Pakistan from recognising and establishing diplomatic relations with Israel are solidarity with Muslim countries in general and with Arab countries. Fear of an adverse response by influential militants in Pakistan and internal instability.
It’s time to be practical. Just have a look at what we are losing out on by not having ties with Israel:
1. A very big market for Pakistani food, cotton and gems in terms of exports.
2. An advanced military market for Pakistani imports
3. A very advanced technology sector which can help Pakistan grow in agriculture, computer sciences, electronics, genetics, medicine, solar energy .
4. A strong Jewish lobby all around the world, which can help Pakistan raise its image as a friendly nation.
It’s time to face it; if we want a more progressive Pakistan, we need strong friends.
We are so wrapped up in what is good for everyone else, that we are losing sight of what is good for us as a nation. We need to drop our prejudices, be proactive and move to gain all the strong, influential friends that we can.
This post was originally published in Express Tribune blog.