The Pakistani and Israeli foreign ministers have met publicly for the first time.  This meeting came about after Israel had decided to withdraw from Gaza after 38 years of occupation.  After the meeting Silvan Shalom, the Israeli foreign minister, called it a “historic and huge breakthrough” and expressed his happiness and said “We are hoping to establish diplomatic relations between our countries”.  The Pakistani foreign minister, Khursheed Kasuri, said that Pakistan had decided to “engage” with Israel and called the meeting “a gesture to underscore the importance we, in Pakistan, attach to Israel ending its occupation of Gaza”.

Historically this was not the first contact between the two countries aiming at establishing diplomatic relations.  In fact, contact with this aim in mind goes back to the 1940s, almost immediately after Pakistan and Israel joined the United Nations.  The two representatives of the two countries at the world body, Abba Eban (later foreign minister of Israel) and Ahmed Shah Bukhari, initiated the contact to establish diplomatic relations.  The Pakistani foreign minister at the time, Zafarulla Khan, whom the Israel Intelligence Service called al-Ahmedi (because he was of the Ahmediyya Sect) encouraged the contact. Zafarulla Khan also called on Arab countries to make peace with Israel after the Arab Jewish war ended in 1948.

The contact (negotiation) continued for some time but ceased when the Prime Minister of Pakistan Liyaqat Ali Khan was assassinated in 1951, the cause of which remains a mystery.  According to a report submitted by Abba Eban, Pakistan was on the verge of recognising Israel.

It is not known why Pakistan started these early contacts with Israel despite the disquiet among people in the Muslim world after the United Resolution in 1948 to divide Palestine, as a result of which Israel emerged as an independent country and also despite the uproar and demonstrations in Pakistan itself at the time.  

The suggestion of Abba Eban that the reason for this contact was that Pakistanwanted to embarrass India which had not recognised Israel yet, was not, I think, either a good or a justifiable one.  Later on there were other contacts between the two countries though they were not very serious ones. These contacts took place in the 1950s, between the Pakistani foreign minister Fairuz Khan Noon and Shabtai Rosen, an Israeli ambassador.  There were also some casual and clandestine contacts.

One of these clandestine contacts is detailed in a recently published book by the journalist George Crile in which he mentions the secret deals by the Pakistani army, then headed by General Zia ul Haq, and Israel, through the CIA, for weapons to supply the Afghan Mujahideen fighting the Soviet Union.

The recent initiative by Pakistan towards Israel was prepared for by some statements by the Pakistani leader, Pervez Musharraf, such as his statement in an interview with a private TV channel in 2003 in which he said “We have to review our policy towards Israel and to look at it anew devoid of sentiment …because we do not want to be Palestinians more than the Palestinians themselves and not to be Catholics more than the Pope”.  And when Shimon Perez met him two years ago at the Economic Forum in Davos in Switzerland the former said to him “There are many rumours that relations have been established between our two countries”. Musharraf replied by saying “We are putting great efforts towards this aim but you have to make progress towards the conflict with the Palestinians”. President Musharraf also agreed for the first time to give a speech to a conference in America organised by a Jewish group, which was convened last September and in the same month met Ariel Sharon during the United Nations Summit meeting.

It is also reported that he was saying to the Americans who have always pressurised him to recognise Israel and to do so publicly, that he was waiting for the right moment to do this.

According to the Jerusalem Post General Musharraf himself initiated the recent contact and he himself wanted it to be public and Turkey was asked to hold the meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries.  However, he subsequently emphasised in New York during the UN annual gathering that there would be no normalisation with Israel until after the Palestinian State was established. The Pakistani foreign minister stressed that the meeting did not mean recognition and this would come after progress in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.  But I believe such statements by the Pakistani officials are made only to calm the domestic and Muslim opposition to this move. Because there was some disquiet in Pakistanwhen the meeting took place and one of the opposition leaders in Pakistan said “It is a dark day for the Pakistani people and we object to (diplomatic) relations with Israel”.

Regardless of how much Pakistan tries to trivialise the move, it is obvious that it is the beginning of the normalisation of relations.  This was emphasised by the Israeli sources which said that the next move would be to cancel the ban on Pakistanis travelling to Israel so that the Pakistani people could travel to Israel in great numbers, as Pakistan is the second largest Muslim country after Indonesia.  This would then be followed by delegate visits at ministerial level and so on. All these activities would finally be crowned by the establishment of diplomatic relations.

Many people have asked the question what prompted Pakistan to take this step despite the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians which has not yet been resolved?  Has Pakistan been pressured or does it need diplomatic relations with Israel?

Some analysts believe that there are two important issues at work here.  One of them is Pakistan’s relations with the United States and the other is its relations with its historical enemy India.  As for its relations with the former, Pakistan has come to the conclusion that to get the support and help of the United Statesparticularly after the invasion of Iraq, it should establish diplomatic relations with Israel as the United States had been asking President Musharraf to do.  The opportunity for Pakistan came when Israel decided to withdraw from Gaza.

As for its relations with India, Israel established official relations with India in the early 1990s and has been developing them since then and one of the important aspects of these relations was military involvement such as selling equipment, arms and sophisticated planes to India besides the exchange of intelligence information.  And because of all this Pakistan, the experts say, wanted to balance this relationship in order that, that between Israel and India would not be at her expense, and she would not be on the losing side. Some believe that Pakistanalso needs to send her students to improve their knowledge of technology and advanced science at Israeli universities because the United States is putting many conditions on her students after the 11th September.

Whatever the reasons are, relations between the two countries will have important implications for the politics of the Middle East.  First of all it will open the door wide for other Arab and Muslim countries many of whom are now negotiating in secret with Israel for this very purpose.  This relationship will be very beneficial economically to Israel as it has many goods and a lot of expertise to export to Pakistan. In addition, many Pakistanis will flock to Israel as tourists and this will bring in hundreds of millions of dollars to the Israeli economy.  With this relationship Israel will have another important country to support it in the international organisations by which Israel is complaining that she is neglected and not given a role suitable to her status in these organisations.

There is another advantage Israel will gain in that she will be closer to Iran which she considers an existential threat to her and  enemy number one plotting to destroy her and she will be able to gather intelligence more effectively.

Lastly there is another important point which not many people are aware of which is related to the Judaising of some tribes who live between Pakistan and Afghanistan and who some Jewish organisations think are originally Jewish but who converted to Islam many centuries ago.  Jewish organisations such as Kullanu (all of us) and Amishab (my people returned) are working very hard but secretly to convert them to Judaism. Some of these activities include publishing books and making videos. These operations will be easier after Israel has established diplomatic relations with Pakistan.