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Not a U-Turn

Although the time may not be ripe for a complete U-turn,
the environment can be shaped for Pakistan to have some links with Israel.

By Maj. Gen. Inam Ul Haque (Retd) | October 2020

Taking a pause from reading our national newspapers, we both stretched to relax when our eyes met. We both exchanged hellos, which led to a muted conversation in the foreign newspapers hall of the ‘Memorial Library’ at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where I was pursuing higher studies during the late 1980s. He was a post-doctorate scholar from Israel. He asked me as to why was Pakistan hostile to Israel? I replied that our foreign policy flowed through our Arab brethren, in particular Palestine. I repeated the same answer to another Israeli government official, who attended NESA- the Near-East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies seminar with me in 2006 in Washington DC. Ever since, the question of Israel has remained enigmatic.

Both these eminent Israelis were of the view that Israel has no land or sea borders with Pakistan, no conflict and/or history thereof; no clash of strategic interest in the real-politick, as they say; and that both Pakistan and Israel are ideological states. That the synagogue has more similarities with the mosque than a church; and that Muslims in the US/West buy and eat kosher food, which is in fact halal. That both nations have strong militaries and have a similar threat perception from larger enemies. That since both can achieve a lot together, then why the chasm?

The answer to most of these observations is found in the ‘pan-Islamism’ of our foreign policy. In a world where nations continuously calibrate their policies to align them with their ‘selfish national interests’ as the world order changes, we haven’t done so despite major upheavals globally and in the region. One understands that core or vital national interest(s) - being a nation’s raison de etre - remain unchanged; interests in the ‘important’ and ‘peripheral’ category are constantly evaluated.

Pan-Islamic solidarity as the bedrock of our foreign policy can be traced to a 1951 speech by PM Liaquat Ali Khan in a Motamar-al-Alam-al-Islami moot in Karachi. While speaking after Palestine’s grand mufti had moved a resolution that termed aggression against any Muslim state as aggression against the entire Muslim world, PM Liaquat Ali Khan had emphasized that Pakistan was created “to serve Islam and Muslims”. Fair enough. Other rational reasons for our continued anti-Israel policy are pressure from the religious right due to the Israeli occupation and its abusive policy towards the Palestinians, the Arab factor, Israel’s bonhomie with India and its international isolation. Let’s see each one.

This is an Arab problem about land and not an Islamic one.

The dated Arab-Israel conflict is complex, intractable and should - preferably and justly - lead towards a two-state solution. Without condoning the repressive and inhuman policies and continued violence for which Israel squarely shares the blame, a Pakistan on a semblance of talking terms with Israel, could have been more useful to the Palestinian cause. In international relations, states advise other states, nudging them towards more palatable and better policy outcomes. Distant Pakistan could have been a better interlocutor than neighbouring Jordan and Egypt.

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The writer, a retired major general, covers global affairs and political sociology. He can be reached at tayyarinam
. His twitter handle is @20_inam

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