IN a comment titled ‘Pakistan’s recognition of Israel is now inevitable’, published last week in the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz, Kunwar Khuldune Shahid suggests that the pressure from “the godfathers of normalisation with Israel, namely Saudi Arabia and the United States” is becoming harder to resist.
That may well be the case. There’s nothing new about the US pressure, and there have been occasions over the decades where Islamabad toyed with the idea of succumbing to it. Ziaul Haq, if memory serves, was the first head honcho to publicly point out the affinities between Pakistan and Israel. And Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, the foreign minister under Pervez Musharraf, enjoyed a tête-à-tête with his Israeli counterpart in Turkey in 2005.
The initiatives didn’t go anywhere, and at those junctures Saudi Arabia is unlikely to have officially been supportive. It’s hard to tell, though. Links between Israel and the Arab Gulf states existed long before they were publicised, at least at the ‘security’ level. It may well be possible to track back the turning point to the first invasion of Iraq in 1990-91, after the Saddam regime was stupid enough to assume that its occupation of Kuwait would entail no serious repercussions at the geopolitical level.
All the same, it was more than a couple of decades before most of the Gulf states could pluck up the courage to acknowledge that their repressive and distinctly undemocratic polities potentially made them perfect partners for a powerful, US-backed, nuclear-armed entity that identified itself as the region’s only democratic power.
What is wrong with recognising Israel?
That was always something of a farce, given the military rule over the dispossessed Palestinians since 1967 in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But then, the supposed sympathy for the so-called Palestinian cause in the Arab and broader Muslim worlds never amounted to much beyond occasional lip service.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that Israel’s formal rapprochement with the Gulf region came after it had ripped off its hypocritical mask. The two-state ‘solution’ was never really an option for the Zionists, and Benjamin Netanyahu deserves credit for making this patently obvious — as he does for persuading the likes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in collusion with the Trump administration, to discard their respective masks.
As for Pakistan, its unacknowledged compatibility with Israel stretches back to their mutual origins, within a year of one another, as states carved out by colonial powers on a confessional basis. What’s more, despite diplomatic overtures from the Soviet Union, both of the new nations decided at their incipience to attach themselves to Uncle Sam, studiously ignoring the post-colonial momentum towards non-alignment during the Cold War.
Despite the parallels, there are obviously significant differences in the circumstances of birth — not least the fact that Israel had a far more extended gestation period, given it was effectively conceived with the Balfour Declaration of 1917, back when Pakistan’s founder was still an Indian nationalist. Mind you, Indian nationalism had a very different meaning from its abhorrent current incarnation. And, three decades later, both Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammad Ali Jinnah were hostile to the idea of a Euro-Jewish state being implanted on Middle Eastern soil — not out of hostility to European Jews but in empathy with Palestine’s inhabitants.
All the same, the creation of both Pakistan and Israel involved a vast degree of displacement, frequently accompanied by violence. And both have been faced with fissiparous tendencies in the intervening decades. Israel has been a ‘security state’ since its inception; Pakistan morphed into one not long afterwards.
Pakistan’s founding father, on viewing from the air the post-partition refugee encampments in Punjab, is said to have buried his head in his hands and expressed his despair. His Israeli equivalent, David Ben-Gurion, privately acknowledged that had he been a Palestinian, he would have resisted Israel in the same manner.
All that is in the now distant past, of course, but that does not mean it can be ignored. In terms of the steadily deteriorating status of the Palestinians in both Israel proper and the occupied territories, recognition by Pakistan will make no difference whatsoever — regardless of whether it is endorsed by the pretty meaningless Palestinian Authority.
It’s perhaps worth noting that the fondness for Israel among the Arab Gulf despots has come to the surface in the wake of the Zionist state’s drift to the far right, with no illusions about a path back to the days when the illusion of an ideological divide was kept alive.
It could be argued that Pakistan is at a similar stage of discarding the illusion of a military-civilian divide. Embracing a fascism-inclined nation would neither be a surprise nor a travesty. Many would say just do it.
Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2022