EDITORIAL: General Musharraf’s decision to address Jewish community is good
The American Jewish Congress-Council in the United States, arguably the most influential lobby in that country, has invited General Pervez Musharraf to speak to a select audience in September. General Musharraf has accepted the invite. As the spokesperson of the AJC put it to this newspaper, the decision is “a lovely thing, a very useful step”. What can Pakistan possibly get out of this?
A great deal in the long term, if we look at the power wielded by the Jewish lobby in the United States. But let’s first consider the significance of the growing relations between India and Israel on the one hand and the Indian diaspora in the US and the American Jewish community on the other.
India established full diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992. However, contacts between the two countries date back to the late 1950s. At the time India, along with Gamal Abdul Nasser’s Egypt, Marshal Tito’s Yugoslavia and Sukarno’s Indonesia, was at the cutting edge of the Non-Aligned Movement and could not afford to recognise Israel for fear of antagonising the Arab countries. There was also a genuine left-wing aversion to Israel in India, some of which, though feeble, continues to wit. Since 1992, however, and ahead of the formal rapprochement between the Palestinians and the Israelis in 1993, India extended full diplomatic recognition to Israel. From that point onwards, the two states have been coming closer and today Israel is the second biggest exporter of arms and weapons technology to India. In the last seven years, various Indian governments, especially the BJP one in recent times, have made active efforts to cement India’s ties with Tel Aviv. The main architect of these relations was then-National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra. Mr Mishra also made history when he spoke to the American Jewish Congress-Council.
Pakistan, too, while still far from recognising Israel, has had frequent contacts with representatives of Tel Aviv. During the Afghan war, Israel was even asked by a US Congressman, then a leading proponent of Afghan mujahideen, to supply an anti-aircraft gun to the mujahideen who were facing problems in tackling the Soviet helicopter gunships. In fact, as this newspaper reported, “Contact between American Jewish leaders and Pakistani government representatives has been the norm rather than the exception, especially in the last two years.”
Reports also suggest that the Pakistan army did a study of Pakistan-Israeli relations after India recognised Israel. The Pak army was concerned about the impact of Indo-Israeli relations on the security configuration in South Asia. It seems to have suggested to the then-civilian government that the question of diplomatic ties with Israel should be reviewed in light of new developments. At the time, in the wake of the Oslo Agreements, Israel’s relations with the Palestinians and other Arab countries were improving and Pakistan had a window of opportunity to review its policy on Israel. However, for a host of reasons, the issue was not pursued further.
Two years ago, General Musharraf opened debate on the issue again but then retreated in the face of hostile conservative opinion in Pakistan. Israel, for its part, has always wanted to have diplomatic ties with Pakistan. In an interview to a weekly newspaper last year, Israel’s ambassador to India was quoted as saying that Tel Aviv was deeply interested in having diplomatic relations with Pakistan. This makes sense from Israel’s viewpoint, given Pakistan’s standing within the Muslim world.
General Musharraf now has an opportunity to present Pakistan’s viewpoint to the Jewish lobby in the US. Non-recognition of Israel has so far worked to Pakistan’s disadvantage, as has the rightwing interpretation that Muslims cannot trust Jews and, therefore, must always remain on-guard against Jewish conspiracies. This viewpoint is, of course, contradictory because it speaks of Jewish conspiracies on the one hand while on the other it offers no security against such conspiracies. Indeed, the isolation it recommends allows Pakistan’s adversaries to have a walkover.
Engagement is clearly a better option, but one that we have avoided for reasons that have nothing to do with the realism of the state or its interests. In this space and elsewhere in this newspaper we have recommended that Pakistan needs to visit the question of recognising Israel not on the basis of some article of faith but on the basis of what its cold blooded interests dictate; it’s a pure cost-benefit calculation. As things stand, Pakistan cannot even do something for the Palestinians because it has no presence in Israel. Ironically, when the late Yasser Arafat was confined to his office in Ramallah by Israel, Mr Arafat appealed to New Delhi to intervene on his behalf with Tel Aviv. He could not have asked Islamabad to do so because Islamabad does not recognise Israel.
India has been creating a linkage between its relations with Israel and its growing ties with the US Jewish community. It realises the importance of this nexus. So should Pakistan. General Musharraf has made a correct and practical decision to speak to the AJC in New York and this could be the first step towards greater understanding between the two sides. As the AJC spokesperson told this newspaper, relations between the two sides could help put to rest the Huntingtonian scenarios of an impending “clash of civilisations”. This comment should give us some idea of the nuanced thinking other peoples and communities have even as we continue to froth at the mouth.
It is also important to note that while Palestinians continue to struggle against Israeli hegemony, a legitimate exercise, they have avoided linking up with organisations such as Al Qaeda. And this includes the Islamist Hamas. The current Israeli government has also taken the decision to vacate Gaza and has already struck a deal with Egypt for Gaza’s security. This is not enough to create a viable Palestinian state but it is the first step towards that end. Much needs to be done and Pakistan can play a positive role in helping the process along. However, for that, Pakistan first needs to review its policy of non-engagement with Israel. It must also take a leaf from the Palestinian book and look at the issue in local rather than civilisational or ideological terms. *