Global Affairs Desk

Tue Jun 18 2024

Pakistan's "No Diplomacy" approach towards Israel

~ By Aarush Joshi on 5/12/2023

Pakistan's "No Diplomacy" approach towards Israel

Pakistan has made clear its objective vis-a-vis its relationship with Israel and has made it clear that the relationship will not be normalised until the question of Palestine is resolved. The normalisation agreements between Israel and the Muslim countries that began with the Abraham Accords in August 2020 set the bells of the possibility of normalising relations ringing along the diplomatic corridors of Sector G-5 in Islamabad.

The connection between Pakistan’s struggle with India over Jammu and Kashmir and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Pakistan’s relations with Iran, and the Sunni radicals in Pakistan are central barriers to the establishment of diplomatic relations. There have been private initiatives for advancing relations between Israel and Pakistan that developed after the Abraham Accords renewed the Pakistani discourse on the issue, and could serve as a lever for diplomatic relations in the long term.

Pakistan’s proximity and dependence on the Gulf countries, which have warmed their relations with Israel, create an opening and possibility for indirect partnerships between Israel and Pakistan. The US-Pakistani connection, which has grown closer in recent years, could also serve as a foundation for future diplomatic ties.

As of early 2023, Pakistan did not have any diplomatic relations with Israel. A few Muslim countries such as Yemen, Kuwait and Tunisia have made their stance clear on the issues by not recognising Israel as long as there is no resolution to the Palestine issue. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan left no room for doubt when he responded to a controversial report on a visit by a Pakistani citizen to Tel Aviv in November 2020: Why would someone from Pakistan go [to Israel], when our policy is not to recognise Israel?"

Several core issues in Pakistan’s foreign and domestic policy come to play in this comment made by Imran Khan, that have prevented the normalisation of ties with Israel.

Historical overview

Pakistan’s position on this issue was expressed as early as 1947 in the struggle by Pakistan’s representative to the UN against the plan to partition Palestine. According to American reports, during Israel’s War of Independence, Pakistan attempted to provide the Arabs, fighting against Israel, with military support that included 250,000 rifles that it bought from Czechoslovakia and three aircraft that it bought from Italy.

Pakistan’s decision of not normalising ties with the Jewish state erupts not only from its support to the Arab and Muslim population living in Israel but also from the superposing of this situation with its enmity with India along the borders, over the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. In Pakistan's view, both events represented Islam's struggles for sovereignty.

After the end of the War on Independence Israel believed it would be possible to open a diplomatic mission in Pakistan and trade openly with it. A year later, representatives of Jewish organisations met with Pakistan's ambassador in London in order to issue transit permits through Pakistan to Jews who sought to leave Afghanistan. Pakistan repeatedly declared that it does not recognise Israel and will assist its Arab brethren in defending the holy places of Islam (i.e., al-Aqsa Mosque)

Pakistan’s stand on the issue was repeatedly brought to play with its support to Israel’s adversaries in the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, and the first intifada, by providing humanitarian aid to flying fighter jets against the Israeli Air Force.

In March 1993, then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin met with Pakistan's ambassador to the UN, Jamsheed Marker, and discussed possible bilateral relations. In addition, many other meetings were held during this period between diplomats from the two countries and non-governmental organisations on behalf of the State of Israel in third countries, but these did not develop into an overt normalisation agreement.

The main reason, according to statements issued by Pakistani diplomat Akram Zaki, was fear of opposition from extremist groups and clerics in his country. In the late 1970s, Sunni Islamisation processes began under the rule of General Zia-ul-Haq, and were influenced by the Cold War and events in neighbouring countries—the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Zia both Islamised the laws in Pakistan and approved and funded the establishment of madrasas (Islamic schools), which later became the main source of jihadists. Of the 3,906 madrasas that were registered in Pakistan in 1995, 2,010 were established after 1979, and as of 2005, the estimated number of students in the madrasas was 1.7 million. After the end of the Soviet-Afghan War in 1989, the radicalism that emerged in Pakistan was directed mainly towards the struggle with India over Kashmir.

Pervez Musharraf’s serious considerations of normalising relations with Israel did not understand their full potential as Musharraf resigned and was exiled from the country for 5 years, and the leaders who subsequently rose to power in Pakistan did not embrace his line of thinking regarding Israel.

Events such as the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020 that normalised relations between Israel and the Sunni group of countries gave new impetus to the possibility of normalisation between Israel and Pakistan. The possibility of relations being established between the two countries rose again in Pakistan especially in light of Israeli President Isaac Herzog's welcome of the delegation. This move was received with mix emotions; a group of Pakistanis condemning the move, to express their solidarity with the Palestinians and another group welcoming the move, arguing that this step would help Pakistan economically.

Present day scenario

In September 2022, another Pakistani delegation came to Israel, this time a smaller one. The delegation, led by a former Pakistani government minister, met with President Isaac Herzog and Foreign Ministry officials.

As recently as April 2023, he Pakistan Foreign Office and Ministry of Trade and Commerce rejected reports of any trade or diplomatic links with Israel, dismissing reports of any diplomatic relationship between Islamabad and Tel Aviv. The Pakistani Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said “there is no change in Pakistan’s policy towards the Jewish state”, reacting to the reports of the sale of Pakistani commodities in the Israeli markets.

“There is no change whatsoever in our policy on which there is complete national consensus. Pakistan steadfastly supports the Palestinians’ inalienable right to self determination.”

In the near term, it is unlikely that Pakistan will establish diplomatic relations with Israel. A thought that dominates the corridors of Islamabad is that there could be more harm coming Islamabad’s way than benefit. Therefore, it is assumed that relations between the two will continue in the covert format for the foreseeable future. However, Israel’s increasing proximity with members of the Islamic bloc could pave way for similar steps to followed while considering its relations with Pakistan.

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