Expected Recognition of Israel Part of Agenda Given to Musharraf

Pakistanis read about the Foreign Ministers meeting

By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

LONDON, September 5(2005): The rapid moves that Islamabad has been making indicate that Pakistan would soon become the 5th Muslim country to recognize Israel, the other four being Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Mauritania while Morocco and Qatar only have limited trade ties. And the credit for it would not go to any elected civilian leader but to an absolute military dictator.

Since almost four years I have been writing that the recognition of Israel was part of the multifaceted agenda assigned to General Pervez Musharraf by powers that be in exchange for support to him for perpetuating his authoritarian rule against the democratic aspirations of the Pakistani people.

Pakistan held first ever formal and public contacts with Israel in Istanbul on September 1 at its own request brokered by Turkey. Officially described as a historic breakthrough, Islamabad has claimed that it had the backing of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and President Mahmood Abbas of the Palestinian State Authority. While Saudis have not yet come out publicly whether Pakistan’s initiative had their support, a spokesman of the PLA, however, has nailed Islamabad’s claim that the move had the blessing of President Mahmood Abbas.

The Palestinian Authority said on Thursday that it was “worried” about Pakistan’s making high-level diplomatic contact with Israel despite its occupation of east Jerusalem and the West Bank. “It is not good to give Israel gifts before it really implements the peace process, not only in Gaza, but in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem,” deputy prime minister Nabil Shaath told the press. “We are worried about this because it’s not a good time to start relations with Israel.”

The West Bank leader of Islamist fundamentalist movement Hamas denounced the meeting and urged Islamic and Arab states not to fall into the trap of seeing the Gaza pullout as synonymous with the end of occupation as naively or advertently understood by Pakistani leader General Musharraf and his Foreign Minister Mian Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri.

“We condemn any relationship between an Islamic state and the Israelis and we ask Pakistan to go back on this agreement, especially as the Palestinian people have not yet been given their rights,” said Hamas spokesman Hassan Yussef.

In order to defuse hostile domestic and foreign reaction as that of PLA, Musharraf has lost no time in stating that Islamabad would not recognize Israel until a Palestinian state was established while Israeli Prime Minister Sharon is insisting that he sees no final status talks with the Palestinians in the foreseeable future

According to diplomatic sources General Pervez Musharraf has been under too much pressure from his pro-Zionist Western mentors to recognize Israel. The Gaza pullout gave them the stick to browbeat the General into taking initiatives that would soon foreclose recognition. He had also been conveyed that a positive gesture could mean further extension in the fast expiring insurance cover to his absolute hold on power that seemed to be becoming more of an embarrassment to Washington currently marketing democracy as a global phenomenon.

In this context Assistant of Secretary of State Christina Rocca had not minced her words during her last visit to Islamabad where she made it categorically known in the shadow of countrywide allegations of massive pre-poll rigging in the local bodies elections, that the United States would like to see 2007 general elections to be completely transparent with even playing field for all the political parties and leaders.

In the footsteps of pro-democratic rumblings came the news that Musharraf has accepted the invitation to address the powerful American Jewish Congress following the visit of its key members to Islamabad as his value-added guests. Sources in Islamabad had hinted that things would start moving towards a thaw with Israel after Musharraf’s September visit to the United States. They had failed to gauge the urgency propelling Islamabad.

In desperation Turkish intervention was sought, a meeting was brokered in Istanbul where Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Kasuri had rushed to reveal that his country had decided to “engage” to hold talks with Israel after years as one of its harshest critics because of what it saw as the beginning of the end of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

While PLA is extremely “worried” over a move described by it as premature, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, said Israel hoped to use the Pakistan talks as a springboard for broader diplomatic ties with Muslim and Arab countries that have long spurned it. Shalom believes that his meeting would “finally lead to a full diplomatic relationship with Pakistan as we would like to see with all Arab countries.” “We made a huge breakthrough today…,” Shalom said. “We think it will be a very positive signal to Israeli and Palestinian public opinion that there are some fruits from this withdrawal from Gaza.”

In a wider move to rope in other Islamic states to recognizing Israel, Jordan’s King Abdullah is also expected to visit Israel as early as next week to lend his support for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s dismantling of Gaza settlements.

Israel’s recognition is thus around the corner, not far away, a matter of months and not years. Not that, such a recognition would help Islamabad much though it would definitely help Musharraf’s personally as the man who can deliver. When in Washington later this month, he would have a very depressive tale to tell to his bosses how much he had personally to suffer for fulfilling Israeli part of the agenda assigned to him.

When one looks at the speed behind his moves, it seems that Musharraf is half way through his agenda. He has already made solution of Kashmir issue easier by surrendering to India Pakistan’s traditional stand on the UN resolution for plebiscite in Kashmir, not many years ago for the civilian leaders it was something non-negotiable and sacrosanct.

Besides Kashmir, he has delivered a great deal on Pakistan’s nuclear program. One of the most important issues assigned to him in the agenda was the decision to roll back Pakistan’s nuclear program. With Dr. AQ Khan sitting on top of it, it would have been impossible for him to dislodge even its single brick. Now Dr Khan has been taken care of, rendered into a vegetable by design.

From the day he was relieved from KRL in 2001 Pakistan has been on the downward slide and Musharraf Administration has done it very shabbily to self-branding Pakistan as being a rogue nuclear state. His recent diatribe against Dr Khan directly involving him in the North Korean deals shows a method in the madness, making a scapegoat of Dr Khan while himself having the cake of his spoils and eating it too.

Instead of defending a program that has practically immunized the anorchous Pakistani generals from the Indian Army, Musharraf and his men sacrificed the man who gave them this virtual “Viagra”. Our Generals are only capable of using their guns on unarmed civilians seeking their democratic and fundamental rights and have no shame in surrendering vital strategic locations such as Siachen to India without firing a shot.

Throughout the Cold War Washington’s agenda was multifaceted with the sole objective of combating and minimizing the increasing influence of Soviet Union. In the process, on the one hand, Islamists were backed, picked up, pumped to counter Soviet influence in Middle East and on the other, Israel was nurtured, nourished and nuclearized to play the role of a bastion state to protect Western interests.

Pakistan under a military ruler, General Ayub Khan, was roped into CENTO (earlier known as Baghdad Pact) and SEATO to be part of Washington’s strategy to counter China. Although Washington always had a soft corner for India but it lacked trust in it due to Sino-Indian friendship until 1962. It also realized that Pakistan under one-man rule would be more pliable and useful for its geo-strategic interests in the region as against a democratic India.

This was also the period when Pakistan continued to follow the Arab line on Israel. It tagged its stand on Tel Aviv’s recognition to the policy of non-recognition by Saudi Arabia and other OIC members although it had no common borders with Israel, no clash of economic or strategic interests. Rather, both Israel and Pakistan shared a common raison d’ etre, their religions as founding pillars of their states. Obviously Israel was left with no option but to befriend India and support it against Pakistan.

With the end of Cold War, Washington’s Israel and Indian policies acquired a new thrust. Pakistan under a civilian and democratically elected Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was well oriented to rationalize its foreign policy objectives and pursue its goals to acquire greater respect in the comity of nations. While Bhutto stood by her independence, Pakistan’s much too interfering military establishment went the other way. Though she refused to accept its dictations, it pursued its own agenda, both overtly and covertly, on Kashmir, relations with India, Israel and Afghanistan with Taliban in power was its sole domain beyond the reach of Pakistan’s Foreign Office. She did not realize that those very Quislings who had been responsible for making a horrible example of her father would make her homeless.

Who could best serve the foreign interests? Not civilian leaders, was the answer. The Kargil invasion in 1999, a brainchild of Musharraf, seemingly brought the truth home to Washington once again: In Pakistan, it is the Army Chief that calls the shots.

Clinton Administration tried to save Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif by issuing a warning as late as September 1999 that it would not approve of a military coup in Pakistan. However, American generals and CIA who had developed very close liaison and understanding with their Pakistani counterparts since their deep throated collaboration from the days of the Afghan Jihad, saw in the General the person who could deliver for them on Kashmir, nuclear roll-back, Bush’s crusade against the Jihadi terrorists and recognition of Israel.

And the horrendous tragedy of 9/11 led to the most profitable change in his fortune. A pariah military dictator with whom no leader of the civilized world, would shake hands became President Bush’s blue-eyed boy and his Knight Templar in his crusade against terrorism. Just one line American ultimatum to him that “either you are with us or with them” brought about from him the most astounding U-turns in military history.

Now we come to the remaining part of Musharraf agenda which relates to recognizing Israel. Musharraf believes that once he recognizes Israel, he will buy a perpetual life-cover for his presidency from Washington. His “incidental” meeting with former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres early in the year that led to “brief talks” between the two had set the ball rolling towards the direction of recognition. Answering a question Musharraf on his meeting made matters further clear. “We are undertaking great efforts for this to happen.”

Musharraf, it may be recalled, had first launched his recognize Israel’ operation in June 2003 when he had said: “Recognizing Israel will not bring down the skies, if the Arabs are recognizing it, we also ought to reconsider our policies towards Israel.” Looking for an opportune moment Musharraf again floated the idea in October 2003 when he said: “We have been in support of the Palestinian cause. If the peace process moves forward in justice, we can revise our policy with Israel.”

Much like Musharraf’s “incidental” meeting with Shimon Peres, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto too had a chance meeting with him at an international forum in Europe where the two shared the podium with other top leaders including Gorbachev. Like his invitation to Musharraf, Peres also invited Benazir Bhutto to visit Israel. While Musharraf seems to have dropped the long-standing position of Pakistan’s support for the Palestinians, Ms Bhutto’s response was more appropriate. She told Peres that she will consult Yasser Arafat (until then alive) before she says anything on the issue of Israel’s recognition or accepts invitation to visit Tel Aviv.

The difference between Bhutto’s stand and Musharraf’s has been obvious. While she would not have liked to cause “worry” to the people of Palestine, Musharraf has gone more than an extra mile towards recognizing Israel since it would get him closer to Washington, a step if taken by any civilian leader in Pakistan, would have made Pakistani military establishment to hang him/her by the gallows.

In conclusion, I share the view expressed by PPP spokesman Senator Farhatullah Babar on the meeting of the two foreign ministers in Istanbul that interfaith dialogue is the need of the time. However, no unilateral decisions should be taken on issues that will have an impact both domestically and in the Muslim world.

Had the regime taken its langri-looli (handicapped, lame) Parliament into confidence, its decision would have become more credible. On important foreign policy issues, solo flight and individual decisions need to be avoided. Indeed, it is ironic that a regime that criticized former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto for meeting with a former Israeli Prime Minister at a Socialist International Conference has now sought the good offices of Turkey to facilitate the meeting with the Foreign Minister of Israel. An apology to Ms Bhutto would surely be in order.

The writer is a former Pakistan High Commissioner to UK

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