Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri shakes hands with Israeli FM Silvan Shalom. Istanbul, Turkey. Sept. 1, 2005. It remains the only publicly acknowledged talks between the two states, Photo: AP
Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan’s political buzzword “Naya Pakistan” has given lots of surprises since he came to power in the last quarter of 2018.
Khan has failed to allure his neighboring countries, especially India, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. Instead, he went three steps forward to make the relationship from sweet to sour.
On the other side, Pakistan’s most distinguished print and TV journalist, Kamran Khan, who is also editor-in-chief for the influential Dunya Media Group, triggered a controversial debate in a tweet: “Why can’t we openly debate the pros and cons of opening direct and overt channels of communication with the State of Israel?”
It was once a taboo to overtly discuss a relationship with Israel, but the issue has entered Pakistan’s capital Islamabad and has spilled over into mainstream discourse.
Early this year, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi of “Naya Pakistan” told the Israeli newspaper Maariv that Pakistan wants “normal ties” with Israel.
Speculation is ripe about whether or not the ace cricketer, Khan, has let the balloons loose to feel the pulse of the mainstream. A renewed debate has been active in Islamabad over the recognition of Israel for the past 12 months.
In the decades of hostility among Muslim countries and the Jewish State of Israel, except for a few Arab and Muslim countries, none has recognized the country which was given birth using forceps by superpowers in the late 1940s in the hostile neighborhood of Palestine.
In the same decade, 50% of Muslims in India decided to migrate to a new country -- born through a cesarean section -- on the basis of religion.
After two months of the nation-state being founded on Muslim nationalism, Pakistan’s first foreign minister Zafarullah Khan rejected the concept of Jewish nationalism in the United Nations General Assembly session on October 1947.
He argued that, unlike Pakistan, a Jewish state in Palestine would be an “artificial” result of “immigration,” thus ignoring the partition of India that caused large scale cross-border migration, and which is described as a dark period.
Following Israel’s independence, its first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion sent a telegram to the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in a bid to establish diplomatic relations. The message was stowed into cold storage.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had a “fanatical hatred” for Israel in the 70s, but at the same time did not “conceal his dislike for Arabs.”
In August 1994, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto quietly declined to visit Gaza because the visit would have to be coordinated with Israeli authority, as part of their agreement with Palestine.
Despite Islamist pressure and Pakistan being controlled by its military, several unofficial diplomatic exchanges have taken place between Pakistani and Israeli officials over the decades, including the reported meetings of Israeli president Ezer Weizman with his counterpart Rafiq Tarar (in Ankara in 1988), and with Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (Johannesburg, 1994).
The political governments in Pakistan are hesitant to seek a breakthrough in establishing diplomatic ties with Israel when the nation and the military, both major stakeholders, condemn Israel’s killing of Palestine and Arab “Muslims.”
Fourteen years ago, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri held their first-ever publicly acknowledged meeting with Israeli FM Silvan Shalom on September 1, 2005, at Istanbul. After Ankara and Istanbul’s tête-à-tête, the interactions between Israel and Pakistan have been limited to counter-terror intelligence and arms trade.
The military dictator General Pervez Musharraf has continued to urge Pakistan to establish relations with Israel, echoing the views of Pakistan’s corridors of power.
Imran Khan, being the army’s “Chosen One,” has guaranteed protection against domestic backlash from the military, which would hope to benefit from formal defense ties with Israel.
First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 10 September 2019
Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender also recipient of Ashoka Fellow and Hellman-Hammett Award