Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Mehmud Kasuri’s September 1 meeting with his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom in Istanbul was the first open high-level contact between the two countries since their creation in late 1940s.
Earlier, many successive Pakistani governments had maintained “secret” contacts with the Jewish state, but did not make it public, fearing a possible backlash in the Moslem county that has all through stood against the 1947 U.N.-sponsored Palestinian partition plan to carve out a separate Jewish state.
Pakistan’s opposition has been based on the demand of complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and the West Bank, the territories Israel occupied in 1967 war.
However, the changing international environment in the wake of 9/11 events and the ensuing anti-terror war has seemingly emboldened Musharraf to take the stirring and epoch-making step.
As expected, Islamic leaders hit out at Musharraf for taking a move against “Pakistan’s Ideology”, which abhors the Zionist state for occupying holy lands, and described it as an attempt to curry favour with Washington.
“It is a move towards ultimately recognizing the Zionist state,” Qazi Hussain Ahmed, chief of powerful religious alliance of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).
Another leading Islamic leader Liaqut Baloch termed it as a conspiracy against Islam and Pakistan.
However, the protest call by the MMA on September 2 to condemn the move failed to attract public anywhere in the country.
The Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD), comprising main opposition parties of former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, was however less hostile.
“Musharraf has ignored the elected Parliament and is oblivious to the public which is against recognizing Israel,” ARD leader Raja Zafarul Haq said.
Farhatullah Babar, a leader of Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) though criticized Musharraf for not taking the Parliament into confidence but said his party supports the rapprochement with Israel.
Musharraf was quick to defend his position and pre-empt a possible public anger by saying Pakistan would never recognize Israel without a creation of an independent Palestinian state.
“The participation in the (Middle East) peace process or contact (with Israel) does not mean that we have recognized Israel, but it is aimed to strengthen the Palestinian stand over the issue,” he told a gathering in south-western Quetta city Thursday – the day his foreign minister met with the Israeli counterpart.
But even the Palestinian people were not convinced of Pakistan’s initiative.
“It is not good to give Israel gifts before it really implements the peace process, not only in Gaza but the West Bank and Jerusalem,” Deputy Premier of the Palestinian Authority, Nabil Shah was quoted as saying a day after the meeting.
He warned Islamic and Arab states against viewing the Gaza pullout as synonymous with the end of occupation.
Almost sure of more such future contacts, political analysts in the capital Islamabad view the development in the backdrop of Pakistan’s growing ties with the United States and its increasing clout in the Muslim world.
Musharraf had first broached the idea of opening up debate on ties with Israel soon after U.S. President George Bush announced three billion dollars package in economic and military assistance in 2003 to reward Pakistan for its role in the war on terror.
“Pakistan has long seen itself as a leader of the Muslim world, and there is no reason why it should refuse to be part of a venture (U.S.-sponsored Quartet Plan) that strengthens its clout not just within the Muslim world or the Middle East but also in broader global politics,” Dr. Ishtiaq Ahmed, a professor at the Quaid-e-Azam university in Islamabad said.
He believed the potential Pakistan-Israel ties would also help lift off the US-led western pressure from Pakistan’s nuclear programme, whose safety had been repeatedly questioned after the disclosure of its top scientist Dr. A.Q. Khan’s involvement in nuclear black-marketing.
Defence analyst Prof. Hassan Askari Rizwi said the move carries with it certain long-term objectives. “The decision also relates to improving Pakistan’s image in the U.S. where pro-Jewish lobby is very strong,” he told SOUTHASIA.DE.
Askari, however, did not think warming ties with Tel Aviv was aimed at throwing a spoke in the wheels of the strong Israeli-Indian military ties. “There are no ideological elements between the two and Israel’s selling of weapons to India is purely on commercial ground,” he said.
Access interview at dwelle.de