A stable Pak­istan is in Is­rael’s in­ter­ests, too

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment & Analysis -

IT IS A night­mare sce­nario. A fer­vently Is­lamic coun­try is equipped with a nu­clear arse­nal; al Qaeda cells flour­ish in its cities; its pop­u­la­tion slips to­wards fun­da­men­tal­ism and its mil­i­tary leader’s iron grip is clearly weak­en­ing. This is the in­cen­di­ary sit­u­a­tion cur­rently un­fold­ing in Pak­istan. While Is­rael’s se­cu­rity fears more usu­ally fo­cus on Iran, the po­si­tion of its east­ern neigh­bour Pak­istan — where Gen­eral Pervez Mushar­raf has de­clared a state of emer­gency to com­bat an “un­prece­dented level” of ter­ror­ist threat — should also be of acute con­cern.

Strate­gi­cally vi­tal, its border with Afghanistan rife with ever-more-dar­ing pro-Tal­iban forces, Pak­istan also has a cache of some 50 nu­clear mis­siles.

Its im­por­tance in the “war on ter­ror” has made Mushar­raf, who seized power in 1999, a key West­ern ally. Since the Septem­ber 11, 2001 at­tacks, he has re­ceived $10 bil­lion (£5bn) in aid from the US, and Bri­tain will hand him £480m over the next three years.

This cosi­ness has even ex­tended to di­a­logue with Is­rael. In Septem­ber 2005, fol­low­ing the Gaza disen­gage­ment, Sil­van Shalom be­came the first-ever Is­raeli For­eign Min­is­ter to hold pub­lic talks with his Pak­istani coun­ter­part.

“It was very pos­i­tive,” Shalom tells the JC now, “and we thought that at the end of the process there would be some kind of diplo­matic in­ter­ac­tion.”

Apart from one fol­low-up, how­ever, con­tacts found- ered — per­haps be­cause, as Shalom points out acidly, his suc­ces­sor de­clined to pur­sue them. It could also be be­cause such over­tures were dis­tinctly un­wel­come in Pak­istan. Pop­u­lar sen­ti­ment to­wards Is­rael can be gauged from the re­ac­tion to an in­nocu­ous Jan­uary 2005 in­ter­view with Shi­mon Peres in a Pak­istani news­pa­per. The very next day, a fu­ri­ous mob wrecked the of­fices of the of­fend­ing pa­per.

Pak­istani moder­ates may see ben­e­fits in talk­ing to Jerusalem, not least be­cause of Is­rael’s mil­i­tary ties to their arch-ri­val, In­dia. “Mushar­raf also sees Is­rael as a con­duit to the US,” adds Pro­fes­sor Efraim In­bar, di­rec­tor of the Be­gin Sa­dat Cen­tre for Strate­gic Stud­ies.

But moder­ates are def­i­nitely in the mi­nor­ity. Even Mushar­raf has found it near-im­pos­si­ble to con­trol vast sec­tions of the coun­try.

“Al Qaeda thrives in un­governed spa­ces, and the most ob­vi­ous are the tribal au­ton­o­mous re­gions such as Waziris­tan,” says Alexan­der Neill, an an­a­lyst at the Royal United Ser­vices In­sti­tute think tank. Clashes, such as the Red Mosque siege ear­lier this year, have been bloody and se­vere.

While the risk of ji­hadi out­laws seiz­ing nu­clear weapons is vir­tu­ally nil — “if mil­i­tary con­trol were to break down, I am with­out a doubt that the US has a con­tin­gency plan [to pro­tect the in­stal­la­tions],” says Neill — a more se­ri­ous threat comes from the mil­i­tary it­self.

Al­though the­o­ret­i­cally un­der Mushar­raf’s con­trol, sig­nif­i­cant el­e­ments are sym­pa­thetic to — or di­rectly linked with — ex­trem­ist groups. There are prece­dents for a lack of con­fi­dence in Pak­istan’s nu­clear se­cu­rity. The dis­graced nu­clear en­gi­neer Ab­dul Qadeer Khan trans­ferred tech­nol­ogy to Iran, Libya, North Korea — and, some say, even Syria. The of­fi­cial line is that the gov­ern­ment re­mained un­aware of Khan’s ac­tiv­i­ties un­til 2003, but it seems highly likely that, as well as of­fi­cial col­lu­sion, he ben­e­fited from con­sid­er­able mil­i­tary lo­gis­ti­cal help.

“It’s very se­ri­ous,” em­pha­sises Shalom. “If the lead­er­ship moves to­wards the hands of the ex­trem­ists, it will be very dan­ger­ous, for Is­rael and for the whole world.”

Un­for­tu­nately, though, the ter­ror threat makes a con­ve­nient al­ibi for au­thor­i­tar­ian rule. The state of emer­gency has meant thou­sands ar­rested, judges sacked, po­lit­i­cal ral­lies out­lawed and in­de­pen­dent me­dia banned.

The un­com­fort­able truth is that re­alpoli­tik wins over hu­man rights. “Our in­ter­est is in sta­bil­ity, like that of Bri­tain and the US,” says In­bar. “We un­der­stand the fact that democ­racy can­not be so eas­ily in­stalled.”

In­deed, fol­low­ing the Iraq de­ba­cle and Ha­mas’s elec­tion tri­umph, it has be­come un­fash­ion­able to be­lieve that democ­racy can com­bat ex­trem­ism. In Pak­istan as else­where, few are now will­ing to con­sider that sup­port for hu­man rights, the rule of law and demo­cratic elec­tions might bring longer-term sta­bil­ity to a sim­mer­ing pop­u­la­tion than the im­po­si­tion of mil­i­tary rule.

Daniella Peled is the JC’s For­eign Ed­i­tor

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.