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Edition 36 Volume 3 - September 22, 2005

Pakistan and Israel
Why, and why now?  - Shmuel Bar

The Israeli-Pakistani meeting culminates decades of contacts between the two countries.

An undeserved prize  - an interview withGhazi Hamed

Any relationship with Israel and the Arab and Muslim world weakens the Palestinian position.

Testing the waters  - Irfan Husain

Having tested the waters, Musharaf will push ahead and build on this first public contact.

Islamabad's flirtations with Israel out in open  - Jasjit Singh

India would react adversely were Pakistan to use this relationship to intrude into Israel-India relations.

Why, and why now?
 Shmuel Bar

The latest overt step in Israeli-Pakistani relations was not a bolt out of the blue. President Pervez Musharaf has been signaling his interest in a "review" of Pakistan's relations with Israel for some time. This pragmatism toward Israel fits in with the political Weltanschauung that Musharaf has been projecting since he came to power. As a military officer who lived in Turkey where his father served as a diplomat, Musharaf has gone on record as an admirer of Atta Turk and of the Turkish model for a Muslim state, i.e., modernization, secularism, alliance with the West, and relations with Israel. The final Israeli withdrawal from Gaza along with the approval of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's King Abdallah II provided the political cover for a step which suited Musharaf's basic policies.

Historically, the Israeli-Pakistani meeting culminates decades of contacts between the two countries that span changing circumstances and administrations on both sides. Contacts were held between the two parties under the auspices of international bodies since the early 1950s. A long line of Pakistani leaders such as Foreign Minister Sir Zafrullah Khan (1947-1954), military rulers such as Ayub Khan (1958-1969), Yahya Khan (1969-1971), and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1972-1977), as well as democratically elected leaders such as Benazir Bhutto and Nazar Sharif (the 1980s and 1990s) all gave their blessing at one time or another to discrete contacts with Israel.

For much of this period, Israel had a vested interest in contacts with Pakistan for a variety of reasons: as a channel to the Muslim world; as a counter-balance to India's "non-aligned" and pro-Arab posture; and in the light of Pakistan's membership in CENTO. The Israeli interlocutors for these meetings were not unnamed intelligence officials but prominent diplomats such as Abba Eban, Gideon Raphael, and Walter Eitan. Since the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty--and more so since the Oslo accords--the constraints on Israeli-Pakistani relations have diminished. Pakistani diplomats have met with Israelis, and hundreds of Pakistani businessmen and academics visited Israel and met with Israelis in the government and economic sectors.

At the same time, Pakistan had a common interest with Israel that warranted overcoming domestic and Arab constraints. Pakistan was a pro-western country and like Israel found itself aligned with pro-western conservative countries in the Arab world and against pro-Soviet paradigms of Arab nationalism and radicalism with close ties with India. In the non-aligned movement, Pakistan could not place itself in the anti-western camp along with the Arab countries led by Egypt. This consideration dictated a more pragmatic position vis-a-vis Israel. In some of the unofficial contacts during the late 1950s Pakistanis expressed unambiguous hostility toward Nasser's Egypt and satisfaction at his defeat in the 1956 Sinai Campaign.

Unlike Israel, however, for Pakistan the "avoidance" factors were evident and manifold: Pakistan was a Muslim state that was born out of Muslim separatism and needed the support of the rest of the Muslim world--particularly the Arab world--against its giant adversary, India; Pakistan was closely aligned with Jordan and Saudi Arabia and even provided military training and expeditionary forces to those countries; Pakistan's powerful Islamist parties were strongly influenced by both the Wahhabi school of Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt--both virulently anti-Israeli.

Pakistan's nuclear capability, along with its radical Islamic body politic and involvement in encouraging radicalism, should have placed it high on Israel's list of potential strategic threats. However, even media references to the Pakistani nuclear program as the "Islamic bomb" did not affect Israel's basic policy: to view Pakistan more as a potential interlocutor than as a potential threat. Pakistan itself clarified on various occasions and at various levels that its nuclear capability is not intended to serve any but its own national security.

The watershed in relations, however, came from outside the region: the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington and the subsequent "War on Terror". Pakistan, under a clearly pro-western military leader, Pervez Musharaf, found itself on the wrong side of all the campaigns declared by the United States and its western allies:

In the War on Terror, it was arguably a country that had accorded al-Qaeda a great deal of hospitality, both official and on the popular level. As such, it had an obligation to make a greater contribution toward eliminating the threat.

In the context of the American campaign for a "Broader (democratic) Middle East", Pakistan is ruled by a military regime (albeit, one secular and friendly to the West) that had toppled an elected civilian government. As such, it contradicts a prime tenet of current US policy: encouraging democracy in the Muslim world.

In the area of counter-proliferation, Pakistan's nuclear program, its refusal to subscribe to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the involvement of Abdul Qadeer Khan (whether officially or not) in providing key uranium enrichment technology to Iran, its "outing" of its nuclear capability, and its acquisition of medium range ballistic missile capabilities from North Korea--all go clearly against the grain of American counter-proliferation policy.

In the Middle East peace process, Pakistan has not played a role despite the American demand that Muslim countries encourage the Israeli-Palestinian process by giving Israel positive feedback on its steps toward the Palestinians.

All the above played a significant role in the decision to declare open relations with Israel. Pakistan could have improved clandestine relations through intelligence (ISI-Mossad) channels, but such a step would not have provided the public diplomacy profits that it needed. By holding open contacts, Pakistan could open the doors to the Jewish lobby in the United States (where Musharaf spoke before the American Jewish Congress) and place itself on the "right side" of the peace process. Pakistan hopes that this may counterbalance the criticism of its leniency toward domestic supporters of terrorism and its behavior in the area of proliferation.

While the main objective of the Pakistani decision is to improve Pakistan's status in Washington, there are also bilateral interests that justify open relations. Israel and the Pakistani regime are both targeted by al-Qaeda and its affiliates, some of which have even issued fatwas that declare Musharaf an apostate (tantamount to a death warrant). Another common threat is Iran, with which Pakistan has ambivalent relations and which supports radical Shi'ite organizations inside Pakistan. A third and more delicate issue may be a common stand regarding the prospects of a breakdown of the NPT in the wake of its failures in Iran and North Korea. Pakistan and Israel may find themselves on the same side of the fence: nuclear powers (declared or not) under pressure to participate in a process of de-nuclearization. Pakistan is also concerned over Israel's growing military relationship with India and would like to use relations with Israel to inhibit it.

Will both sides get what they want out of their new relationship? Pakistan cannot expect low profile relations with Israel to counterbalance the extensive economic and military relationship that has developed with American blessings between Israel and India. However, Pakistan may certainly register an achievement in its opening of the doors of the Jewish lobby in the United States to its own diplomats.

Israel's gains from relations with Islamabad, however, may remain modest; the constraints of the Pakistani domestic theater will not allow much further progress in the near future. Prospects for further rapprochement will depend mainly on internal Pakistani developments (the survival of the present regime and the nature of any successor regimes) and on continued progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Just as the present development became possible due to progress in Israeli-Palestinian relations, regression in those relations will make further progress between Israel and Pakistan difficult. - Published 22/9/2005 © bitterlemons-international.org

Dr. Shmuel Bar is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, and a veteran of the Israeli intelligence community.

An undeserved prize
an interview with Ghazi Hamed

BI: What is your reaction to news of contacts between Pakistan and Israel?

Hamed: It seems to me a prize that Israel doesn't deserve. It is a dangerous step by Pakistan for which there seems to be no reason because nothing in the Palestinian-Israeli question is solved and we are still at the beginning here. Any relationship with Israel and the Arab and Muslim world weakens the Palestinian position, because the more support and sympathy from Arab and Islamic states Israel gets the less it has to work on solving this conflict.

BI: Some would argue that better relations between Israel and the Arab and the Muslim world might actually help the Palestinian cause insofar as they make Israel feel more secure.

Hamed: I think according to our experience--Egypt has had a long relationship with Israel and so has Jordan--we have not seen a change in the Israeli position concerning the Palestinian question. On the contrary, these relations seems to strengthen Israel which no longer feels isolated and gets more support from the international community.

Look at what happened with President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas was elected, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has not started any negotiations with him even though Egypt has pushed for this many times. In general, such Arab- or Muslim-Israeli relations do no help the Palestinians in any way. On the contrary, they open the gates for the Israeli economy and only create frustration among Palestinians, especially when you hear people like [Israeli FM Silvan] Shalom say there are secret relationships between all Arab countries and Israel. Sometimes, of course, the Israeli media seems to try to spread rumors to create more confusion and this may be one of those propaganda occasions.

BI: Do you suspect that most Arab countries and Muslim countries have secret relations with Israel?

Hamed: There are some countries yes, but sometimes Israel also tries to present this image. There were rumors of contacts between the UAE and Israel, Libya and Israel, and both countries denied this. So sometimes it's a form of propaganda.

BI: What do you think is the most reasonable position for the Arab and Muslim world to take?

Hamed: Here Israel is considered an enemy that is working against the Palestinians, the Muslims and the Arabs. Israel has never contributed to peace in the Middle East and is now trying to exploit its relations with other countries to exert more pressure on the Palestinians and prevent any proper opportunity for peace. Israel talks, but on the ground it is building the wall, expanding settlements, and leaving Palestinians in a big prison called Gaza.

The Arab and Muslim world should end all kinds of relations with Israel and any kind of normalization. These only weaken the Palestinian people. All Arab countries have said they will not establish any relations with Israel "before the establishment of a Palestinian state." But we know there is American pressure, after Israeli pressure on Washington, to make small countries establish relations with Israel, e.g., Mauritania, whether for economic benefit, or because some countries believe that by establishing relations with Israel they are more likely to get American support. Israel is like a gateway to the US administration.

The problem with the Arab and Muslim world is that every country is only working according to its own interests, making the whole weaker. Israel exploits these differences.

BI: Do you think the Arab and Muslim world will pull together?

Hamed: I hope so. I think this conflict will continue for a long time and the next stage might be even more brutal and hard. The PLO made a big mistake by going to the negotiations alone without Arab support, leaving us alone to deal with Israel and the US. Now Arab countries are saying "go ahead and negotiate and whatever you get, we will support you." This is very dangerous. Jerusalem, for example, is not a Palestinian issue, it is a Muslim issue. The Arab and Muslim world should act as one nation and should lend its support to the Palestinian people.- Published 22/9/2005 © bitterlemons-international.org

Ghazi Hamed is the editor-in-chief of the Gaza-based Al Resala Islamist weekly newspaper.

Testing the waters
 Irfan Husain

The debate triggered by the Kasuri-Shalom meeting rumbles on in the Pakistani media. Letters to the editor, op-ed articles, and TV talk shows continue to argue for and against the Musharaf initiative. Alternately the general is lambasted for being an American stooge and hailed as a visionary. But oddly, this discussion does not resonate in the streets of Pakistan. In the immediate aftermath of the Istanbul meeting, mullahs managed to round up a few hundred followers at dispirited rallies, but this was not a cause to pull out the crowds.

This is not to suggest that the plight of the Palestinians does not evoke sympathy in Pakistan. Since the intifada and its brutal suppression became daily fare on television, events in Palestine have helped radicalize thousands of young Pakistanis. Indeed, the Israeli narrative has been completely drowned out, even among the educated, westernized elite.

It was not always thus. Until the 1967 war and the subsequent occupation of Palestine by Israel, many Pakistanis admired the Jewish state for its pluck and inventiveness. They empathized with a state created under adversity, and located in the midst of hostile neighbors. The parallels with the conditions Pakistan faced after its creation in 1947 are too obvious to dwell on here. During the 1956 Suez war, a Pakistani prime minister said dismissively of Arabs: "Zero plus zero equals zero."

In the 1950s and 1960s, most secular, socialist Arab leaders kept Pakistan at arm's length, finding Nehru's India a closer ideological friend. And Pakistan's membership in anti-Soviet pacts like CENTO and SEATO went against the grain of pro-Soviet Arab regimes. These attitudes began changing with the 1973 war and its resultant oil-price hike that swelled Saudi coffers. Earlier, Pakistanis felt let down by the Americans in their disastrous war with India in 1971. With the loss of its eastern wing, Pakistan's center of gravity swung from South Asia toward the Middle East, a process hastened by Saudi largesse and the flood of Pakistani workers to the Gulf.

All these changes made Pakistanis more aware of events in the Middle East. Gradually, anti-Israel sentiments came to dominate the media and public discourse. However, it was not until the first intifada in 1988 that Israel was perceived as the villain of the piece by a wide spectrum of Pakistani society. This sentiment was reinforced by the anti-Americanism that became rampant when Washington imposed sanctions on Pakistan due to its nuclear program.

Curiously, but not surprisingly, this anti-Israel, anti-American attitude has united the religious right and the secular left. Both groupings have come together in their hatred of Washington and Tel Aviv, seeing in them the source of all that is wrong in the world. With this background, what prompted Musharaf to engage Israel, running the risk of a serious backlash? Obviously, the relationship between India and Israel, with its military implications, was one factor in the general's calculation. The other was the clear advantage in changing the hostile attitude of the Zionist lobby in Washington.

In the event, the backlash did not materialize. From day one after the Istanbul meeting, Musharaf and his prime minister Shaukat Aziz have repeated the mantra that final recognition of Israel depends on the emergence of a viable Palestinian state. This reiteration of a long-standing policy has taken the wind out of the religious right's opposition to any contacts with Israel. Also, virtually every secular party, although resentful of Musharaf's dictatorial ways, has supported the initiative.

One reason the mullahs are having problems getting much traction on this issue is that the average Pakistani understands that Israel is here to stay, and Pakistan's refusal to recognize it changes nothing. The media debate is more of an intellectual exercise, and allows people to let off steam on a matter close to their heart.

A major change to have occurred over the last half century is that most Pakistanis now equate Israel with Jews, period. Hardly anybody here has ever met a Jew, and to a generation increasingly out of touch with the rest of the world, their only abiding image of Jews is of soldiers in body armor shooting at defenseless Palestinians. Drawing room discussions about the Middle East soon wander off into half-baked analyses of Greater Israel and the diabolic grip the pro-Israel lobby has over policy-makers in the United States. And if you wait long enough, somebody will bring up the famous Protocols.

And yet, underlying this veneer of anti-Semitism is a grudging admiration for Israel's many achievements. Many letters published in newspapers recently point out that Pakistan has no quarrel with Israel, and if Egypt and Jordan have recognized it, why shouldn't we? Having tested the waters and found them to be a comfortable temperature, Musharaf will almost certainly push ahead and build on this first public contact, stopping short of formal recognition until the state of Palestine comes into being.- Published 22/9/2005 © bitterlemons-international.org

Irfan Husain writes two columns a week for Dawn, Pakistan's widest circulating and most influential daily. After a career in the civil service spanning 30 years, he was president of a university in Pakistan for five years. He now divides his time between England and Pakistan.

Islamabad's flirtations with Israel out in open
 Jasjit Singh

The meeting of Pakistan's and Israel's foreign ministers in Istanbul was a non-event in India for the simple reason that anybody who knew anything, knew about the flirtations between the two countries going back at least 25 years. The military in Pakistan was always keen to be close to Israel, partly to cover its own fears of Israeli pre-emptive decapitating strikes at its nuclear weapons facilities, and partly to get military technology, besides influencing US policies. To that extent, the excuse of the Israeli pullout from Gaza as the opportunity for the overt meeting is a thin veneer.

President Pervez Musharaf stated in the UN General Assembly last year that Pakistan recognized the right of Israel to exist; and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres "ran into each other" last January at the Davos World Economic Forum. Contrary to conventional wisdom, there has been no negative reaction in Pakistan to the overt meetings. Interestingly, Pakistanis of all hues have been at pains to object to (eventual) recognition of Israel, but not to the contacts and overt relationship.

In the early 1980s, General Zia ul-Haq as the chief martial law administrator decided to establish a clandestine relationship between the Pakistani ISI (Inter-Service Intelligence) that ran the Afghanistan war and Israel's Mossad. He hoped to entice the latter with intelligence about Arab states where the Pakistani military had deep contacts. In public, Pakistan was complaining about a joint Indian-Israeli threat to attack Kahuta, where its clandestine nuclear bomb was being made. Benazir Bhutto as prime minister in 1993 (when General Pervez Musharaf was heading the Military Operations Branch) intensified these relations; and from then on ties progressed all the way to Israel providing electronic devices and training of officers for Musharaf's personal security after attempts on his life were made, and Pakistan sharing intelligence with Israel on Iran's nuclear-missile program in which it cooperated.

As seen from an Indian perspective, Israel's motivations for seeking closer relations with an Islamic middle power to broaden its legitimacy among Muslim countries are understandable. Overt relations with Pakistan, the epicenter of global terrorism, would also help as part of a broader engagement if they result in moderating Islamabad's quarter-century old practice of promoting militant jihad as an instrument of state policy. Pakistan's motivations, on the other hand, have been more complex; they comprise an important India-centered factor, especially after the substantive upgrading of India-US and India-Israel relations in recent years. Ten years ago, Israel was nearly ready to establish full relations; but Islamabad backed off, preferring to busy itself installing the ultra-radical Taliban in Kabul to replace the Mujahideen groups governing Afghanistan that it had nurtured for the previous decade.

Pakistan's major incentives for seeking this relationship have centered on competing with India for Israeli attention, influencing the US through the Jewish lobby, and accessing high-technology military systems directly or indirectly from Israeli industries. Indians would naturally react adversely were Israel to allow Pakistan's favorite pastime (and hang-up) of using every relationship, issue and opportunity to stoke rivalry with India, to intrude into the now well-established Israel-India relations. These encompass more than five decades of recognition of Israel by India and a robust strategic partnership that goes beyond arms trade.

It is difficult to believe that open contacts between Pakistan and Israel would in any way further the cause of Palestinians. Pakistani officials have reportedly claimed that Islamabad aims to position itself in the middle of the power game between the major powers of the world, and overt contacts with Israel would help it to play the role of a "regional power broker" between the US, China, and Russia. This reinforces the view that Islamabad's core interests lie in areas other than promoting Palestinian (or Israeli) interests. These include seeking close relations with Iran (viewed as the primary strategic threat in Tel Aviv), to which it has supplied nuclear technology and material for uranium enrichment.

In the past, Pakistan admittedly adopted a much harder line against Israel than most Arab states. But that did not automatically translate into furthering the cause of the Palestinians; little has been done by Pakistan over the decades so far in furthering their interests. In fact, Palestinians may have lost much more because of their interests being treated as an "Islamic" cause rather than within the context of their own national rights in their region. It is too early to assume that the Israeli military pull-out from Gaza (as the excuse for the Istanbul meeting) will lead at an early date to a sovereign self-governing Palestinian state, or that Pakistan in any way would influence Israel to withdraw from the West Bank.- Published 22/9/2005 © bitterlemons-international.org

Air Commodore (ret.) Jasjit Singh is director of the Centre for Air Power Studies, a New Delhi based independent think tank.

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