Pakistan’s overtures towards Israel

On Sunday 18th of September, General Musharraf became the first Pakistani leader to address the American Jewry. In his speech, General Musharraf declared, “Pakistan has no direct conflict or dispute with Israel. We pose no threat to Israel’s security. We trust that Israel poses no threat to Pakistan’s national security.” Musharraf also spoke about the possibility of formalising relationship between the two countries once Israel proceeds ahead with the road map.

Musharraf’s speech was a culmination of public diplomacy and high level contacts between Israeli and Pakistani officials that began in earnest three years ago. Jack Rosen, chairman of the American Jewish Congress, told the audience how he and other members of the group had been working quietly for the last three years to normalise relations between Israel and Pakistan.

Contacts between the two countries remained relatively clandestine until Musharraf visited Camp David in 2003. After pledging his unstinting support for America’s war on terror and receiving $3 billion in US aid, Musharraf immediately raised the spectre of peace with Israel when he said,” What is our dispute with Israel? We should think.” In January 2004, Shimon Peres invited Musharraf to visit Israel. Musharraf responded, “If the relations between the two countries are established, then I would be pleased to make a visit to Israel.”

The Bush administration used Jewish Americans to facilitate contacts between Israel and Pakistan, as well as other Muslim countries most notably Turkey to broker the recent meeting between the foreign ministries of Israel and Pakistan. Even the timing of Musharraf’s proclamation that Israel has a right exist was orchestrated by America and not by Musharraf as suggested by some in the Pakistani media.

America deeply concerned about Sharon’s reluctance to return to the road map after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and some parts of the West Bank, told Musharraf to link recognition of Israel with the resumption of the road map and the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state. That is why Musharraf said, “Peace process progresses towards the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, we will take further steps towards normalisation and cooperation, looking to full diplomatic relations.”

Musharraf is not alone in conveying friendly overtures to Israel. Other Muslim states like Qatar and Indonesia acting under the auspices of Britain and America have also sent similar signals.

In this way, America hopes to lure Sharon back to the road map and move the stalled political process forward. From Sharon’s perspective a swift return to the road map may prove to be detrimental to his rule. Moreover, Sharon and his party believe they have done their bit for peace and have embarked upon an intense campaign to shift the onus of peace-making onto the Palestinians.

Sharon’s insistence that Hamas must be disarmed, combined with the near paralysis of the Bush administration in Katrina’s aftermath has only served to bolster Israeli intransigence towards the road map. America’s policy of using the carrot such as Pakistan’s promise to recognise Israel may not be enough lure Sharon to the negotiating table. At some point, America will have to employ the stick to force Israel to comply with America’s vision of a two state solution. When this happens, will largely depend on Bush’s ability to minimise the political fallout from Katrina as well as to remain commitment to Iraq–”both issues threaten to undermine his presidency.

Had Musharraf and other rulers of the Muslim world been sincere to the Palestinian cause they would have long ago exploited Israel’s weakness to support the Palestinians. Israel’s declining Jewish population, its reliance on the Arab countries for water, its retreat from Sinia, South Lebanon, Gaza and parts of the West Bank, and its over-dependency on America makes it extremely vulnerable. But what accentuates Israel’s susceptibility is the radicalisation of Muslim masses in region who will never accept the legitimacy of the Israeli state. These incontrovertible facts make the process of recognising Israel a farce and any agreement reached will not be worth the paper it’s written on.

It seems inconceivable for someone of Musharraf’s sagacity to ignore these facts and side with America against the Palestinian people. Did not Musharraf learn anything from the separation of East Pakistan (Bangladesh) from Pakistan? One of the main reasons for losing East Pakistan was that Pakistan was unable to replenish supplies to its troops stationed in East Pakistan because of India’s territorial mass. In many ways this is identical to the circumstances in which the proposed Palestinian state is to be created. Gaza’s borders will be totally controlled by Israel and linked via a corridor to parts of the West Bank with Israel retaining overall authority. How can this prison state constitute a viable state?

Musharraf’s abandonment of the Palestinian people bears all the hallmarks of his desertion of the Afghans, Iraqis, Kashmiris and the people of wazaritsan. No wonder Condoleeza Rice recently described him as a remarkable man.