For six decades now, Pakistan has refused to recognize the State of Israel. Although, human rights violations have played a part in this decision, the real reason has always been to show solidarity with the Palestinians, the Arabs and the ‘Muslim World’ at large. But if one is to reflect back on this, it has been a costly decision due to which Pakistan has suffered not only diplomatically but also politically and economically. Today with terrorism running havoc in the country, an economy in ruins that is struggling to stand on its own two feet and relations with the international community at an all time low, it is imperative for Pakistan to realign its foreign policy in a drastic way so that it reflects neutrality rather than preference towards any specific nation(s) or bloc(s). The ideal beginning to such a policy would be to recognize the State of Israel.
The seeds of the this highly ambiguous and complicated relation were sowed when in 1947 Israel’s first Prime Minister Ben Gurion sent a secret telegram to Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, asking to establish diplomatic relations between the two countries. But Jinnah’s delay in responding back was soon followed by his death the same year. Interestingly, in 1949 Pakistan came quite close to recognizing Israel under the government of its first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan. The following year, Iran recognized Israel (relation that was severed when Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979), a move that was the perfect catalyst to Pakistan making a similar decision but the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951 left the matter in a state of paralysis. The weak government of Khawaja Nazimuddin that followed ended any chances of Pakistan formulating ties with Israel during that period; as such a move required a populist leader who could speak over the Islamists, something Nazimuddin was unable to achieve. In the decades that followed, diplomats, politicians and intelligence officers from Pakistan and Israel met numerous times at various embassies and events around the globe but such interactions never resulted in a bold move from either side.
By extending a hand towards Israel, Pakistan can play a decisive role in the Israel-Palestine conflict, a conflict that Pakistan’s ex-President (1999-2008) Pervez Musharraf characterized as ‘the root cause of many of our bigger problems such as terrorism and extremism’. For decades radical groups in Pakistan have used this conflict to garner support for themselves and their causes. That is why despite Israel and Pakistan never having engaged in an open conflict, Israel follows US as being one of the most negatively perceived countries in Pakistan. Pakistan must also realize that it cannot expect to play a role of a mediator between the two parties if it fails to recognize the very existence of one of the parties. Another advantage lies in balancing the Israel-India relation, which has been on an upward trajectory since 1992 (when India recognized Israel). Currently India is the second-largest military partner of Israel while it also accounts for nearly fifty percent of Israeli defense market sales. Keeping in mind the highly volatile relation that India and Pakistan share, pulling Israel away from India’s grip can only benefit Pakistan. A welcome bonus for Pakistan will be the positive reception such a move will garner from around the international community. Pakistan will also be able to use Israel’s clout to reenergize its ties with the west and the US in particular.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri (left) meets with Israel’s Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on September 2, 2005 in Turkey.
Israel too stands to achieve a lot from its relation with Pakistan, the second largest and only Muslim nation with nuclear power. Since 1948, Israel has shown more signs of being interested in developing official ties between the two countries than has Pakistan. As Israel’s foreign ministry pointed out in 2003, “We have no diplomatic or border problems with Pakistan. We have no hostility (against them). We would be happy to have relations with Pakistan”. Such a relation will certainly lead to reducing the enmity against Israel in many of the Muslim countries and will likely pave the way for countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh to follow suit by recognizing Israel as well. Pakistan being one of the founding members of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) generates considerable influence in the Muslim world despite the political and economical conundrum that it finds itself in nowadays. Its ties with Middle Eastern regional powers such as Saudi Arabia have been historic with Prince Turki bin Sultan describing it as “probably one of the closest relationships in the world between any two countries”. Hence closer ties with Pakistan could provide Israel with the much-needed gateway into the Muslim World and with it the Arab World.
It is critical to be realistic when it comes to Israel. Pakistan must realize that by recognizing the Jewish state, it is not shedding off its pro-Palestinian position, a view that is quite popular among many Pakistanis, but it is merely acting as a responsible nation that can, in the immediate context, play a positive role in enforcing a permanent peaceful resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and in the larger context garner support to resolve another burning conflict not far away, Kashmir. Undoubtedly the resolution of these two conflicts will trigger a dynamic collapse of Islamic extremism. After all, the one thing Israel has taught all of us over the last 64 years is that it is a political reality and nations like Pakistan must learn to accept it. No two nations, in their bare essence, share more similarities between one another than Pakistan and Israel- (i) both rejected calls of unification, Zionists rejecting to be part of Federal Palestine, Muslims rejecting to be part of United India; (ii) both argued for a separate state based on the justifications of the minority retaining its identity; (iii) both movements were led by secular leaders and opposed by the religious clerics; (iv) both witnessed massive migrations; and (v) both were created on the basis of religion, Israel on Judaism and Pakistan on Islam.
Pakistan must not continue to be handicapped by the opinion that recognizing Israel will anger its allies in the Arab World. Especially, since Arab nations continue to have increasingly cordial relations with India despite its dispute with Pakistan over the Kashmir region. A prime example being UAE’s Dubai Port World cancelling its bid for managing the Gwadar Port, one of Pakistan’s most strategically important project located in the province of Balochistan, after India’s National Security Council voiced concern over it. If the Arabs can have such close relations with India than can’t Pakistan have close relations with Israel? If Arab countries like Egypt and Jordan can recognize Israel than can’t Pakistan? As Musharraf once declared “must the Pakistanis be more Palestinian than even the Palestinians?”