Why Israel still remains a ‘tricky’ subject in Pakistan

Pakistani PM Imran Khan, while speaking an at Asia Society event, was unequivocal in his stance when asked about Pakistan possibly establishing diplomatic ties with Israel.  Responding to a question whether Pakistan was shifting its foreign policy towards Israel, the Pakistani PM said:

Pakistan has a very straightforward position. It was our founder of Pakistan Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who was very clear that there has to be just settlement, a homeland for Palestinians before Pakistan can recognise Israel.

Israel is a very tricky subject when it comes to Pakistan. However, unlike Pakistan, many Muslim and Gulf states apparently ‘close’ to Pakistan, have established some sort of a “working relationship” with Israel.

In this context, I thought it would be interesting to share one of my blogs from 2013 that I wrote on Pakistan-Israel ties.

Is Israel really Pakistan’s enemy?
By Farooq Yousaf 

(Published: April 27, 2013 – Express Tribune)

Growing up in Peshawar, a slightly conservative city of Pakistan, my sentiments as a “Sunni” kid were not very different to other kids in the country.

I had a slight disliking for India and sheer ‘hatred’ for Israel.

Words such as ‘Jewish lobby’, ‘Zionists’, ‘Freemasons’, and many others – whose meanings were unknown to many of us – kept ringing in our ears through religious scholars, teachers, friends and peers; where we used to associate all such terms directly to Jews, especially Jews of Israel and those having major ‘control over US corporations’.

The Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad were always being linked to any terrorist incidents in Pakistani.

A few years ago, this very thought came to my mind as to why we (Pakistan) don’t have any diplomatic ties with Israel?

Other than the Palestine issue, I could not think of other ‘rational’ reasons.

Even the Pakistani passport, explicitly barring us from entering Israel, is a forced decision imposed on Pakistanis, especially for those who would like to visit Palestine or Israel for religious, academic or economic purposes.

I think there are two primary reasons for our hatred for Israel: One, the dominance of religion in Pakistan’s state affairs, and two, the curriculum taught in our schools and colleges.

It’s a bit naive to think now that till my late teens, I was busy hating India and Israel without any historical background or logical reasoning.

I remember attending Friday sermons which would end in curses on India and Israel. Apparently, it was a “positive note”. If those sermons were directed towards policymakers or governments, maybe in some sense, they would have sounded logical.

However, praying for deaths of innocent people – all the Jews- was nothing but making scapegoats for religious sympathies.

The situation concerning India, luckily, has settled to some extent with increasing awareness and education among Pakistanis, however, Israel still holds the top spot when it comes to ‘enemies of Islam’, for a lay Pakistani.

True, there are violations going on in Palestine; true, that Israel has fought multiple wars with Arab states, and true that Israel is a strong ally of India and the USA.

But does it provide any rationale for us to not have any sort of relationship with Israel?

If foreign interventions or occupations are to be used as a criterion, then first and foremost Pakistan should cut off its ties with of the Western states on whose aid the country is relying.

The point I try to make here is that never in our academic or religious institutions have we been explained why Israel should be cursed. Never have we been told why people should believe that Israel is the root cause of most evils in Pakistan.

Even if we try proving Israel’s hostility towards Pakistan, except one theory of Israel’s plan of attacking Pakistan’s nuclear set-up in Kahuta, nothing comes to the fore.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has many times volunteered for Arab wars against Israel – wars that were never directly related to Pakistan. The same countries Pakistani soldiers were fighting for against Israel never came for any help during the wars of 1965 and 1971.

In terms of strategic cooperation, when it came to Pakistan’s gain and interest, general Ziaul Haq was not shy of establishing intelligence cooperation networks with Israeli intelligence against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, but when it came recognition and bilateral ties, Zia was hesitant, like all other leaders of the country.

Without going into historical narratives of to whom true ownership of the Israel-Palestine land belongs, it is ironic to see that many of the Muslim states Pakistan considers ‘brothers’ have somewhat recognised Israel and have maintained cordial ties with it.

If we wish to see an independent state of Palestine, it is important to have some sort of ties with Israel, as having no relations would only limit us to statements and rhetoric in support of Palestine.

We, as a nation, are already suffering from the setbacks of hate-filled curriculum and society that seeped into our values allowing no space for minorities. It is time we start giving space to everyone and work towards inter-faith and inter-ethnic harmony and collaboration.

If we can have friends in India and the USA, why can’t we have friends in Israel? Why not pave a way for initiation of relations, primarily with the people, and not initially the government that may create opportunities for peace and a better future for the coming generations?

P.S. I don’t intend to hurt anyone’s religious or emotional attachment with Palestine, or to enter into the right-wrong debate of the Palestinian crisis. The only purpose of this blog is finding answers to questions that constantly encounter us, the Pakistanis while interacting with foreigners abroad.

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