Pakistan should consider establishing ties with Israel, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said recently, in the days following a standoff with India over the disputed territory of Kashmir.
This was not the first time Musharraf had made his views known on developing relations with Israel. He ruled Pakistan from 1999 to 2008 and was one of the country’s most powerful heads of state.
Musharraf remained a strong critic of Israel until 2005. But it was during his rule that the first-ever direct Pakistan-Israel contact was made, with the help of the then-Turkish president Ahmet Necdet Sezer. Since then, Musharraf, who resigned in 2008, has advocated establishment of relations between Pakistan and Israel.
Musharraf, who claims to enjoy support from Pakistan’s military establishment, as well as from members of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet, has once again advised Pakistan to establish ties with Israel.
Addressing a press conference in Dubai last month, Musharraf said relations with Israel should be established to counter India, drawing an interesting parallel between Pakistani and Israeli strategic realities.
Musharraf also placed on record that, as head of state, he had initiated contacts with Israel. “The Israeli leadership was quick to respond to my offer within 24 hours. I assumed that Israel wanted to create better relations with Pakistan. They still want it,” Musharraf said.
The former president initiated contact with Israel during the second half of 2004, even as anti-Israel sentiments were at an all-time high in Pakistan, a Muslim majority country of 208 million people. Musharraf’s efforts bore fruit, when foreign ministers of Israel and Pakistan held their first meeting in Turkey in 2005.
Later, assisted by Jack Rosen, an American businessman and Chairman of the American Jewish Congress, and backed by then-president George W. Bush, Musharraf became the first Pakistani head of state to address the World Jewish Congress on September 18, 2005.
“Pakistan has no direct conflict with Israel, and we are not a threat to Israel’s security. We believe Israel represents no threat to Pakistan’s national security. But our people have deep sympathy for the Palestinian people, and their legitimate desire for a state,” Musharraf said at that time.
In his speech before the World Jewish Congress, which only a few in Pakistan hailed, Musharraf had praised Israel’s move to pull out of Gaza. “In response to [Ariel] Sharon’s courageous decision to pull out from Gaza, Pakistan has decided to establish formal ties with the State of Israel,” he said. However, Musharraf’s plan to establish Pakistan-Israel ties never materialized, while his views on Israel continue to divide politicians in Pakistan.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has not yet responded to Musharraf’s suggestion that Pakistan should form relations with Israel. However, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, told Al Arabiya English that this is a possibility, but only if the Israel-Palestine conflict is resolved amicably.
“Pervez Musharraf is Pakistan’s former president, so he is highly respected. But he isn’t a part of our government. Not even our ally. So, his comments do not reflect the government and people of Pakistan,” Qureshi said.
“What I can tell you is that Pakistan has had a pro-Palestinian stance for a long time. We cannot even think about establishing contacts with Israel until Palestine is internationally recognized as an independent state.”
Ijaz-ul-Haq, former federal minister for religious affairs in Musharraf’s government, categorically rejected any proposal to establish relations with Israel. “We can’t even think of establishing relations with Israel,” Ijaz-ul-Haq told Al Arabiya English.
Ironically, Ijaz-ul-Haq’s father, General Zia-ul-Haq, who served as President and Chief of Army Staff, reportedly allowed Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) to establish links with Israel’s Mossad in the early 1980s.
Intelligence offices were set up in embassies of both countries in Washington DC, where the Mossad and ISI, with help from the CIA, ran a decade-long anti-Soviet operation, codenamed Operation Cyclone.
Under this operation, Israel delivered Soviet made-weapons to Afghan rebels fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and also supplied weapons to the Pakistan Army.
According to WikiLeaks, ISI had secretly passed on intelligence to the Mossad that Israeli civilians might be targeted in a terrorist attack in India during September or November 2008. It was also reported that then-ISI chief Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha established direct contact with Israel’s Mossad to pass on this information.
Islamabad-based analyst and Ph.D. scholar at Quaid-e-Azam University, Mustansar Abbas, believes Pakistan may need a long time to eventually establish relations with Israel. But it will have to do it slowly, since foreign policy cannot be static and has to evolve with time.
“Take the example of Oman, which made it loud and clear that it is time to recognize Israel. Many Muslim countries, which in the past took a strong and principled stand against Israel, are now increasingly warming up to the Jewish state. So, Pakistan should consider building relations with Israel,” Abbas said.