Prompted by last week’s historic deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalise relations, it is that time of the year again when a discussion in Pakistan begins, rather discretely: Do we accept Israel, or not? And like all the other times, this too shall pass, or not.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has stated that no matter what other countries do, Pakistan will never recognise Israel until “Palestinians are given their right of a just settlement”. If Pakistan accepts Israel, it will have to give up Kashmir as well, because the same situation applies there. Khan’s statement came after a carefully drafted response from the Pakistan Foreign Office that the UAE-Israel deal “is a development with far-reaching implications”. Neither condemning nor commending, staying clear of creating troubles for itself with the Gulf state, while still recovering from the diplomatic fiasco with Saudi Arabia.
Pakistan, for decades, has ideologically aligned itself with the Gulf and the Arab world. So, will their warming up to Israel now make Pakistan reconsider its politics?
The star of conspiracy
After Partition, Pakistan solemnly opposed the idea of ties with Israel, despite it being the only other ideological state in the world apart from Pakistan.
For a state that Pakistan refuses to recognise, we certainly worry about Israel a bit much, and also think that it worries about us. But of course, Pakistan is the centre of the universe, and every country out there is conspiring against us. That’s why most ‘traitors’ and ‘agents’ are coloured Yahoodi (Jew) and all ‘lobbies’ working against Pakistan are Jewish. A close second winner is the Hanood (Hindu) with their R&AW agents.
Those who advocate acceptance of Israel by Pakistan often point to India and Israel’s friendly relations. To keep India’s ‘nefarious‘ designs in check and to counter it, this could be a good way forward. Such is the paranoia that half of Pakistan still believes that our country arrested an Israeli pilot on the day Abhinandan Varthaman fell in Pakistan. While the other half believes that Israeli pilots led the Indian airstrike on Balakot. One can always blame India for using Israeli bombs in Balakot, hence the confusion.
This just goes to show anything and everything Israeli is a ‘Zionist’ conspiracy. Naya Pakistan has witnessed a couple of them. A member of parliament from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) suggested ties with Israel, urging Muslims and Jews to come to a peaceful settlement. This rang alarm bells that the PTI is working on a “Jewish agenda”. Then there was the curious case of an Israeli plane landing in Rawalpindi in 2018, while Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was on a visit to Oman, but the Pakistan government continued to deny it. Then Pakistan’s Immigration and Passports Office listed Israel among countries whose citizens were allowed to visit Pakistan, but later clarified it was a mistake.
The passport of Pakistan says: “This passport is valid for all countries of the world except Israel.” So, if Jewish or Christian Pakistanis want to go for a pilgrimage to Israel, what should they do? Perhaps, Navjot Singh Sidhu can help find a way to lead them to Jerusalem given his magical hug with army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa opened up the Kartarpur corridor. Or else, they could get arrested like David Ariel, a Pakistani citizen who protested in Islamabad saying he wanted to travel to Israel on his Pakistani passport.
Who cares what Pakistanis think
The first leader to openly challenge the status quo was military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf, who said that if the Palestinians and Israelis reach a peace deal, then why should Pakistan not recognise the country? In 2005, in Ankara, the foreign ministers of Israel and Pakistan held the first-ever officially acknowledged meeting, which was met with much condemnation by religious groups back home. Understandably so, because the anti-Israel sentiment has been good for rabble-rousing.
The notion that public sentiment is against any association with Israel is as accurate as the notion that Pakistanis’ emotions don’t matter when their vote is stolen. But to think that the common Pakistani has a say in foreign policy is laughable. If the winds have to change, they will change, and the jazbaat of the people will be the last thing anyone would worry about.
Before recognising Israel, it will be good for Pakistan to recognise itself. And decide what it actually wants as a State. Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that international relations are above religious sentiments — a thought hardly adhered to by anyone in Pakistan. For now, Israel is Pakistan’s enemy number one until Palestine is freed. This gives us a break from India for a while.
The author is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. Her Twitter handle is @nailainayat. Views are personal.