Is Is­rael try­ing to woo Pak­istan to gain cred­i­bil­ity in the Is­lamic world?

The Northlines - - OPINION -

In the process of es­tab­lish­ing friendly ties with Pak­istan to gain cred­i­bil­ity in the Is­lamic world, is Is­rael adding to Pak­istan's woes? Shan­tanu Mukharji

Amidst Pak­istan's on­go­ing mul­ti­ple do­mes­tic prob­lems - ac­quit­tal of Asia Bibi and en­su­ing ri­ots, eco­nomic tur­moil, and killing of an oc­to­ge­nar­ian re­li­gious cleric thought to be close to Prime Min­is­ter Im­ran Khan - a new headache has added to its list of grap­pling chal­lenges. And, this is dif­fer­ent from the run of the mill. It's a re­cent in­ci­dent when an Is­raeli busi­ness jet with so­phis­ti­cated state- of- the- art gad­getry is be­lieved to have touched Pak­istan - al­beit for few hours - leav­ing a trail­ing blaze of ru­mours, spec­u­la­tions and in­ter­pre­ta­tions as to how did Pak­istan tol­er­ate a Jewish State and anti-pales­tinian air­craft and man, breach­ing Pak­istani airspace.

The jet ar­rival has also let many the­o­ries afloat in the me­dia and amongst a highly charged and sen­si­tive polity rais­ing sus­pi­cions which are bereft of much rea­son­ing. One of the sto­ries go­ing around is that Is­rael is def­i­nitely try­ing to court Pak­istan - not only for main­tain­ing a geopo­lit­i­cal bal­ance, but also to elicit sup­port from a diehard Mus­lim na­tion in light of chang­ing equa­tions be­tween Is­rael and Saudi Ara­bia, the UAE, Oman, and Bahrain - ap­par­ently to iso­late Iran.

Is­rael, of late, has been gain­ing cred­i­bil­ity in these Mus­lim states. In­ter­est­ingly, Is­raeli cul­tural min­is­ter while in Abu Dhabi re­cently was ac­corded ex­tra­or­di­nary re­cep­tion. It reached a crescendo when Is­raeli na­tional an­them was played in full dis­play when the Is­raeli judo team won the first prize. This is seen as un­prece­dented and unique. It is also for the first time that Is­raeli na­tional an­them was played in the UAE.

Is­rael has started leav­ing its foot­prints in some Mus­lim states par­tic­u­larly in the Gulf, and this emerg­ing bon­homie does not merit to be over­looked. And Pak­istan - re­li­giously least in­tol­er­ant of all these coun­tries - may be flirted for sev­eral rea­sons.

Mean­while, it is also per­ceived in some strate­gic quar­ters that the mys­te­ri­ous Jet flier in Pak­istan re­cently may have been part of the USD 6 bil­lion bailouts to Pak­istan by Saudi Ara­bia to res­cue the coun­try from its eco­nomic im­broglio. In the same vein, Is­rael is be­lieved to try­ing to sell its mil­i­tary hard­ware to Pak­istan - which is well known to stock­pile lat­est ar­ma­ments ar­guably to for­tify it­self against In­dia. This ar­gu­ment also gains cur­rency from the fact that a pow­er­ful Jewish lobby is ac­tive in the US, and it is not un­likely that it would not try to fa­cil­i­tate mar­ket­ing the sup­ply of Is­raeli arms to Pak­istan.

How­ever, Pak­istan au­thor­i­ties have rub­bished claims of any knowl­edge of any Is­raeli vis­i­tor pay­ing a visit to Pak­istan in re­cent times by fly­ing a jet air­craft. As­sum­ing this ver­sion is cor­rect, a tweet in the so­cial me­dia baf­fles all. Avi Scharf - the ed­i­tor of the prom­i­nent Is­raeli lib­eral daily Haaretz - tweeted, "Is­raeli biz jet from Tel Aviv to Is­lam­abad on the ground for ten hours and back to Tel Aviv can't es­cape no­tice."

To keep things in per­spec­tive, it is per­ti­nent to point out that for­mer Pak­istani Pres­i­dent and mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor - Pervez Mushar­raf had ad­vo­cated for a re­la­tion­ship with Is­rael way back in 2005 when he was at his prime. He al­ways main­tained that it would help nor­malise ties be­tween the two coun­tries. In 2007, Mushar­raf had even vol­un­teered to me­di­ate the Arab- Is­rael con­flict try­ing to project a paci­fist image. Much to the an­noy­ance and dis­com­fort of the Pak­ista­nis in gen­eral, Mushar­raf ar­tic­u­lated sim­i­lar thoughts in an in­ter­view with Al Ara­bia news­pa­per, thereby spark­ing protests. Two years prior to this in 2005, Gen Mushar­raf ad­dressed the Amer­i­can Jewish Congress in New York to cre­ate a favourable pub­lic opin­ion with re­gard to Is­rael. We, there­fore, see a pat­tern in at­tempts to come close to Is­rael and vice-versa.

Other fac­tors ap­pear­ing on the side­lines of the jet com­ing to Pak­istan is the Jewish lobby ex­ploit­ing Im­ran's ex-wife Jemima Gold­smith (a Jew her­self) to­bol­ster trade ties. A Hin­duZion­ist con­spir­acy the­ory is also be­ing talked about.

Mohsin Saleem Ul­lah, a stu­dent in the Is­lamic Univer­sity at Is­lam­abad wrote an Oped in Pak­istan's Daily Times on whether trade be­tween Pak­istan and Is­rael was pos­si­ble in the light of praise­wor­thy eco-po­lit­i­cal syn­cretism de­vel­oped be­tween Is­rael and In­dia. Im­por­tantly, he opined that New Delhi's tech re­la­tion­ship with Tel Aviv has not gone un­ob­served, and one coun­try that may imi­tate the re­la­tion­ship in the fu­ture is Pak­istan. Here, we are!

Pak­istani me­dia too is try­ing to per­haps in­flu­ence the pub­lic opin­ion within the coun­try - to go the In­dia way to warm up to Is­rael for the strength­en­ing of bi­lat­eral ties. An­other opin­ion piece ap­peared in the same pa­per - writ­ten by Muhammad Ta­her Iqbal - sug­gest­ing ap­pro­pri­a­tion of sev­eral open channels of com­mu­ni­ca­tions read­ily avail­able among the Jewish lobby in the US to reach out to Is­rael to pos­si­bly re­duce the hos­tile con­tent around Pak­istan.

With Is­rael be­friend­ing Saudi Ara­bia (Is­rael has not yet con­demned the Khashoggi mur­der by Riyadh so as not to rub it on the wrong side) and UAE to­wards its side, and to wean them away from Iran - ob­vi­ously to iso­late the coun­try.

Prime Min­is­ter Im­ran Khan was in Riyadh re­cently, and any over­tures to Is­rael for lend­ing a friendly hand may be on cards. New equa­tions are emerg­ing to­day with Iran's alien­ation. Is­rael per­haps needs Pak­istan in this sub­tle craft of diplo­macy. Noth­ing is pre­dictable in to­day's world. The en­emy to­day, is a friend to­mor­row. Let the Jet trig­gered con­jec­tures and spec­u­la­tions take a back seat for some time giv­ing us some time to pon­der and anal­yse fur­ther.

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