Analysis/The motivation behind Musharraf’s dramatic step
By Yossi Melman, Haaretz Correspondent
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s decision to establish open ties with Israel, as reflected in the meeting on Thursday in Istanbul between Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and his Pakistani counterpart, required considerable courage.
Israel and the Jews are widely hated in Pakistan, and millions of Pakistanis still believe in conspiracy theories along the lines of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – i.e., that Jews rule the world – and blame the Mossad for the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. Pakistan’s Islamic opposition parties have already announced that today will be a “day of protest” against the decision, and such protests can turn violent: In January, when a Pakistani paper gave an interview to Shimon Peres, dozens of demonstrators attacked the paper’s offices in Karachi, beating the guards and breaking furniture and windows.
Musharraf has been hinting for more than two years that he is considering some sort of relationship with Israel: For instance, he shook Peres’ hand at the last World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and he has met with representatives of Jewish organizations during his trips overseas. He even raised the idea publicly last year, but encountered such a storm of opposition at home, particularly from opposition parties and religious circles, that he swiftly dropped it.
Now, using the withdrawal from Gaza as a pretext, he has taken another step forward. True, his spokesman insisted that the Istanbul meeting did not constitute recognition of Israel, and that diplomatic ties would be established only after a Palestinian state arises. Nevertheless, diplomatic sources in Islamabad told Haaretz last night that Musharraf has made a strategic decision and will not retract it, even if it generates public outrage.
There are two reasons for this decision. First, Pakistan – and it is not the only country to think so – believes that Israel and the Jews can open doors for it in the U.S. government. But the more important reason relates to India, Pakistan’s traditional foe. Over the past decade, Israel has formed a strategic alliance with India that has generated cooperation in the intelligence and nuclear fields and expanded trade, and in particular has made India into a leading market for Israeli defense exports. Musharraf therefore concluded that a dramatic step such as Thursday’s was necessary to try to reshape this alliance into something less disturbing to Pakistan.***
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