Pakistan’s policy has been not to come close to Israel until the Palestinian issue is resolved. Islamabad has stuck to this policy to give no cause of disappointment to the Arab world with which she has always maintained more than friendly relations. In international diplomacy, the real and the feigned stances usually go hand in hand. During the year-long Iraq-Iran war, it was reported in some circles that Israeli arms were delivered to Iran via Pakistan. Undisclosed meetings between the diplomats of the two countries in a third foreign country on the sidelines of international meets have also been reported from time to time.
Usually, official sources in Pakistan vehemently oppose any suggestion of establishing formal or informal contacts with Israel leaving aside the idea of giving recognition to the State of Israel. In his talk to a group of American-Pakistanis at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Israeli President Isaac Herzog talked of his positive experience. Pakistan did not take it well; Ahmad Qureshi who was part of Pak Television was fired. In a resolution of May 30, the Pakistani Senate condemned Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians and urged the government to reflect Pakistan’s known stand on the subject.
But ever since, perceptions of some important Arab States with regard to their regional strategy have shown a positive shift in the context of their relations with Israel. It is but natural that Pakistan policy planners will assess the impact on the dynamics of Pakistan-Arab states’ position on the issue of recognition of the State of Israel.
President Biden visited Saudi Arabia in the middle of July. He was present when an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel was reached for handing over two islands in the Red Sea to the Saudis. This agreement seems to be part of a larger package of reconciliation between the two countries that will cement the new relationship already in place between Israel and UAE, Bahrain and Morocco. The transfer of the two islands may not be the ultimate catalyst to the recognition of Israel by the Saudis. Nevertheless, it is a big and meaningful indicator of the unfolding trend.
Saudi Arab-Pakistan relations have gone through some hiccups in the recent past. The subtle move by the three non-Semitic Islamic countries to oust Saudi Arabia as the custodian of the twin holy cities was scuttled because it hurt not only the Saudi but also the American interests. When Pakistan tendered an apology and recently came to Riyadh once again with its begging bowl, the Saudi monarch relented.
Passing through a period of the political and economic crisis the regime of Shahbaz Sharief is trying to undo the damage done to Pak-US relations by the previous regime in Islamabad. It is making strenuous efforts to mend the fence and restore normalcy in her relations with the US. The triangular relationship will at least inspire Islamabad to look for the positive aspect of the Pak-Israel relationship under the backdrop of the reduced animus of Arab countries towards the State of Israel.
The changing scenario in the Middle East in which Arab countries are revisiting the nature of their relationship with Israel in terms of trade, security and inter-state alignments. As days pass, it will be difficult for Pakistan to escape the impact of the changed scenario in the Middle East. Though Pakistan’s domestic perception of Israel is not favourable as yet, commentators are likely to ask the question what have either Pakistan or Palestine gained out of Pakistan’s long rejection of granting recognition to the State of Israel.
Hypothetically speaking what can be the implications of Pakistan according recognition to Israel? Debating the question of grant of recognition to Israel is no more blasphemous for the pragmatists among the policy planners in Islamabad.Pakistan is said to favour a two-state resolution of the Palestinian issue based on the right to self-determination. If the two-state resolution would be making some headway, it will put Pakistan in an embarrassing situation regarding the Kashmir dispute. The Kashmiri Muslim leadership has often said that Pakistan’s recognition of Israel would mean that they abandon the Kashmiris. Is Pakistan in a position to bear the backlash on the Kashmir issue? Pakistan is already suffering the absence of strong, unified and upright political leadership that can muster the courage to defy the army and take a statesmanlike decision of putting an end to seven-decade old Kashmir issue.
This notwithstanding, the positive points of recognizing the State of Israel are more than one. Pakistan already stands isolated from the US as well as the more prominent Gulf countries. In particular, Islamabad is urgently trying for rapprochement with important Gulf countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Dubai etc. The Gulf is becoming the hub of international trade and commerce. These Gulf countries are home to a large Pakistani Diaspora. A large number of Pakistani labourers working in the Gulf countries make substantial foreign currency remittances that support Pakistan’s economy. As such, the Gulf countries do enjoy the leverage of making Pakistan understand the positive implications of giving recognition to Israel.
One important area which can become very attractive for Pakistan after according recognition to Israel will be access to the state of art military hardware in Israel. Islamabad has been expressing her inability to match some of the sophisticated war material India has been provided by Israel under various agreements of bilateral cooperation. Of late, the US has not been showing that much enthusiasm in selling sophisticated military hardware to Pakistan. At present the only alternative for Pakistan is to acquire war material from China which, is of inferior quality as accepted by Pakistani top brass.
Pakistan has an obsession with maintaining arms parity with India. This apart, Pakistan is facing the gravest danger from two sources; the TTP and Baluch insurgency. In both cases, a sort of bloody war is in process and Pakistan needs some crucial war material to meet this challenge. Some observers may point out that procurement of Israeli state of art weaponry by Pakistan would pose a threat to India and New Delhi may not feel happy about the imagined deal. We don’t think that this argument holds water. India has long passed the stage of India-Pak weapons parity. The atmnirbhar policy of the Modi government has given a new dimension to India’s military power.
Yet another positive point in Pakistan recognizing Israel would help Pakistan in re-making its water management policy. Israel is known the world over for water management and is a country that has surplus water. Pakistan is in great need of increasing water resources and only the advanced technology which Israel has, can come to its rescue.
In the final analysis, the emerging political and economic scenario in the Middle East and the Gulf region, and the domestic compulsions of Pakistan are strong factors to make a deep impact on Pakistan’s long anti-Israel stance. The one big fallout of Pakistan recognizing Israel will be that relations between Pakistan and Iran will run into trouble. Israel will be a gainer if Iran is isolated from the Arab countries. Iran may continue not to recognize Israel, but that country is also passing through a subdued political upheaval. Common sense says that Iran may not be able to retain its orthodoxy for too long. She may ultimately achieve the objective of manufacturing the nuclear bomb but, will she be able to use it against Israel or Saudi Arabia?