By Hamza Azhar Salam.
In 1981, the longest-serving military dictator and ruler of Pakistan, General Zia ul Haq delivered these historic words: “Pakistan is like Israel, an ideological state.”
This came as a surprise to many, who were subconsciously taught to distrust Israel and Jews in particular, with strong tones of antisemitism oozing out of Pakistan’s newly formed and evolving national ideology.
Conspiracy theories were encouraged, those with an Israeli element made them more fascinating. And with Mossad’s global reputation, the blame of many unexplainable acts was conveniently placed on Israel’s unbridled intelligence agency, without abundant evidence.
So icy were the relations between both countries that in 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to have a meal at a New York Italian eatery, Serafina Always after learning that the Pakistani Prime Minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif and his entourage were dining there at the same time.
There have been reports that in the 1980s, Israel planned an attack on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities, but the plan was rejected by India, on the eleventh hour, citing fear of possible nuclear retaliation from Pakistan, the brunt of which India would have borne alone.
And yet, persistent rumours allege that Pakistan and Israel are finally considering establishing diplomatic relations. Why?
The answer to this question lies in the essence of diplomacy, mutual self-interest. And mutual self-interest has often superseded the deepest ideological conflicts in the course of history. The European Union is but one of many successful examples.
Throughout her history, Pakistan has angled herself as the bastion of Islam and the only Muslim nuclear power in the world which has, undoubtedly, received some dividends, like a strategic presence in Afghanistan, a strong narrative against India and a somewhat united internal population but it seems that powerful elements within the present leadership also visualise Pakistan as a modern, progressive, and successful country.
As a nation which has independent relationships with other nations.
During a detailed conversation with Noor Dahri, a thickly bearded Pakistan-Israel friendship ambassador, I came to the realisation that for many religiously inclined individuals, there is not a major conflict between Islam and Judaism or Muslims and Jews.
In fact, a closer study of the Holy Quran reflects how Jews are referred to as “people of the book” and with whom Muslims are allowed to marry.
A Quranic verse states: “And We gave Musa the Book and made it a guidance to the children of Israel, saying: Do not take a protector besides Me.”
Nonetheless, global politics often determines the worldviews of those susceptible to particular strands of rhetoric. In Pakistan, the Palestinian rhetoric has found many takers, and this cause evokes a potent emotional response, resulting in complications for a formal diplomatic relationship between Pakistan and Israel.
But I believe that a significant beneficiary of diplomatic relations between Israel and Pakistan would be the Palestinians. Consider.
Imagine Pakistan has an embassy in Jerusalem and Israel has an embassy in Islamabad. Pakistani and Israeli diplomats socialise with each other, journalists contribute to each other’s media outlets and military and political leaders cooperate in various facets of security and governance.
Imagine the impact it would have on the Palestinian cause, with Pakistan as a state and Pakistanis as a people, formally and informally vying for the Palestinian cause, for more rights for Palestinians, for more freedoms.
Consider the moral support Pakistan, as a non Arab Muslim country could provide to Palestinians with a presence in Israel.
Those who believe that Pakistan will betray Palestinians if she establishes diplomatic ties with Israel are not looking at the full picture, in my humble opinion.
Of course, Israel would not appreciate undue interference by Pakistan in her internal matters but adding Pakistan to the table increases the probability of a peaceful solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine with nuclear-armed Pakistan possibly playing the role of a neutral arbitrator in this undesirable conflict.
On the other hand, Israel can use Pakistan to hedge its relationship with Iran, a country which declares public and official animosity towards Israel.
Pakistan not only neighbours Iran but enjoys a deep strategic relationship with the Iranian nation and people. Pakistan hosts the third most Shia Muslims in the world. Every year, a large number of Pakistanis visit Iran for spiritual journeys.
If Israel is looking for long term peace, the alliance with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco is not enough since only Pakistan, a more neutral and powerful actor in the Saudi-Iran and Shia-Sunni conflict can deliver a sense of normalcy if better sense prevails within the leaders involved in these conflicts.
Pakistan’s neutrality between Saudi Arabia and Iran is substantiated from the fact that Pakistan refused to send her army in Yemen, where both Saudi and Iranian proxies are engaged in a deadly conflict.
Even after Qatar was sidelined by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Pakistan continued friendly and firm relations with Qatar, shattering the illusion that some Gulf States overbear Pakistan’s foreign policy.
Pakistan too has a lot to gain in establishing diplomatic ties with Israel. The first of foremost benefit Pakistan may achieve is balancing India’s dominance in the Middle East. If Israel displays neutrality in the conflict between India and Pakistan, it is Pakistan that benefits from neutralising a mighty Indian ally.
Pakistan’s relationships with her friends in the Gulf can be further strengthened if Pakistan has a diplomatic presence in Israel, a strategically important country in the region.
Pakistan’s position on Kashmir can also be strengthened if Israel discontinues supporting India’s blatant transgressions and violations in the realms of human rights and global peace.
Israel, which is considered a global brand for innovation and technological advancement can offer a plethora of benefits to Pakistan in the realms of modernisation and the tools of the future.
Indeed, Pakistan has displayed proof of being a responsible nation with the interests of common Israelis close to her heart when in 2008, Pakistani intelligence shared information with Israel regarding a possible attack in Mumbai which might have targeted Jewish people.
Apart from a shared history and numerous examples of cooperation, Pakistan and Israel share the same values and goals for the future, with lasting peace at the crux for both countries.
If Israel extends a warm hand of friendship towards Pakistan, she will, outside of the Arab world, dispel the false notion that there is an inherent conflict between Muslims and Jews, or Israel and Muslim nations.
Friendship should always be chosen over hostility, rationality should always be preferred over emotion, and peace should always take precedence over war.
The leaderships in Pakistan and Israel face a choice which has the potential the alter the global world order, with former foes turning friends, even strategic allies if the situation beckons.
Diplomatic relations between both countries will be a win-win-win for both countries, the Palestinian people and the world at large which deserves a fighting chance at lasting peace and more stability in the world order.
As far as the people of Pakistan are concerned, many of them look forward to showing their Israeli friends the true definition of Pakistani hospitality which surmounts traditional definitions of “guest” due to the longing of the average Pakistani to know and be known in the world.
I hope Pakistanis can expect the same in Israel in the times to come.