Pakistan-Israel dialogue

Anatomy of the Pakistan-Israel dialogue

Nasim Zehra

Gen. Musharraf is underscoring Palestinian suffering but understands the Israeli security dilemma.

IN THE heart of New York, at one of the world’s most influential religious forums, an unlikely speaker rose in September to a standing ovation. Billed as a “genuinely historic” occasion, the hall was packed with leaders from America’s Jewish and Muslim community. Sharing the stage at the American Jewish Congress (AJC) with this unlikely speaker were ambassadors and officials from Israel, Pakistan, and the United States. Together, they took in the emerging contours of a potential paradigm shift in global political dynamics. Intently, they all heard Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf offer active cooperation to the Israelis and to the Jewish community in the search for principled peace.

In the first public articulation of Pakistan’s significantly revised position on Israel, Gen. Musharraf acknowledged that “Israel rightly deserves security.” However, he added the critical rider that “this will remain incomplete until the creation of an independent and viable Palestinian state is assured.” Words had already been matched by action. On September 2, the first-ever public meeting between Pakistan and Israel was held in Istanbul, Turkey. Gen. Musharraf had seen the withdrawal from Gaza as a “bold action by the Israeli Prime Minister.” The military President called Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri and said he wanted the Turks to set up an Israeli-Pakistani meeting. “I wanted to seize upon the fleeting opportunity,” he told the Pakistani press in New York. He believed the Israelis deserved encouragement, and that Pakistan had an opportune moment for engagement and the Muslim world a realistic and optimistic “take” on the Gaza withdrawal.

Parameters of engagement

In New York, Gen. Musharraf articulated the broad parameters of Pakistan’s Israel engagement. Recognition, he said, would follow later. “We can’t begin to sprint before we begin walking. We have come a long way from where even the word Israel was hardly uttered, now we are accepting that reality.” But time alone wasn’t the answer, he indicated. “I need more reason, rationality and movement to take my people along on recognition.” Pakistanis were emotionally involved in the Palestinian question, in wanting access to the al-Aqsa mosque and “they should not be denied that.” Gen. Musharraf asked for Israeli “give.” Gaza and the West Bank, to be followed by an arrangement on Jerusalem and the refugees question was the solution.

The overwhelming support for Gen. Musharraf at the AJC gathering was telling of how the context so often frames the content, even in politics. Gen. Musharraf’s “new” Israel policy merely reframes the problem and the solution. It moves from “us versus them” to the “us” framework. It underscores the Palestinian suffering but understands the Israeli dilemma. This understanding could generate greater willingness in Tel Aviv to concede Palestinian rights.

Pakistan’s “new” Israeli policy veers away from the familiar anti-Zionism while advocating that Israel “allow justice to prevail for the Palestinians.” In New York, the Pakistan President rejected the decades-old adversarial framing of Muslims and Jews. He invoked the positives from the historical and present context, whether through the common messages of the Holy Quran and the Talmud or through the Jewish George Soros’ generous contributions for Bosnian Muslims. Gen. Musharraf specifically noted that Muslim-Jewish “experiences and histories intertwine.” He recalled their “shared prosperity” and their suffering.

For Islamabad’s “new” policy, there is understanding in Pakistan, in the Muslim world, in the Jewish community and no less in Tel Aviv. In Pakistan, the public has largely ignored the strike calls of various political parties. Despite the overt policy of routinely condemning Israel, the media have kept the public aware of the fact that successive Pakistani Governments have had covert contacts with Israel. In the Muslim world, following the initial reservations of the Palestinians, there is little Muslim states or society have found disagreeable with Pakistan’s “new” Israel policy. In fact, its objectives match the proposals made by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah in 2002. In exchange for Israeli withdrawal from all territories occupied since 1967 and return of refugees, he offered normalisation of ties to Israel.

In his comments that Gen. Musharraf was the “quintessential Muslim leader” and that U.S. Congressmen from “both sides of the aisle” believed he was “indispensable,” senior Congressman Tom Lantos reflected political America’s view. Earlier, in his December 4 meeting with Gen. Musharraf at the Oval office, President George Bush had pointedly said about Palestine that “he had talked of his friend [Gen. Musharraf]” playing “a big role in helping achieve that objective.”

Pakistan’s objective is to create more space on the international front to promote its diplomatic economic and security interests; to play the mediator in the Arab-Israeli dispute; and neutralise an adversarial Indian-Israeli front that has peaked from the 1990s. A more recent compulsion to engage with pro-Israeli groups would be to deal with the global Muslim complaint that the war on terrorism is turning into a war on Islam by offering Pakistan’s support to the Jewish community on anti-Semitism and enlisting Jewish support against anti-Islamic action and rhetoric.

Continued Muslim-Jewish engagement could help arrest the trend of clash of civilisations and instead demonstrate that consent of civilisations contributes to the Ascent of Man. Master strokes of history, not little steps, are needed to fight off destructive notions. Also needed are resolution of disputes.

After all, unresolved disputes have enabled notions such as the clash of civilisations to gain currency in the hearts and minds of millions of anguished people. In sum, Pakistan’s “new” Israel policy can potentially yield dividends for peace on the national and global fronts.

(The author is a senior Pakistani columnist.)
Courtesy: The Hindu


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