A visit by an interfaith delegation of Pakistanis to Israel revived the speculation of normalizing relations between the two countries.
The visit received added attention because the group met with Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, who described the meeting as “an amazing experience.” He even linked it to the Abraham Accords.
The visit offers an opportunity to take a realistic view of Pakistan’s limited foreign policy options. Despite severe domestic constraints, diplomatic ties with Israel are in the national interests of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Economic Crisis
Pakistan is facing the worst economic crisis since its inception, with potential sovereign default on the horizon. It needs the urgent support of the United States for continued IMF-led funding and removal from the anti-money laundering watchdog’s grey list.
The US leadership, Congress, and the powerful pro-Israel lobby could support the resumption of financial assistance to Pakistan as an incentive if it agrees to normalize ties with Israel. US aid to Pakistan has taken a severe hit with the deterioration of the long-standing bilateral relationship.
Diplomatic relations between Pakistan and Israel are a chance to establish a mutually beneficial economic and trading relationship. For example, Pakistan can benefit from Israel’s high-tech water conservation program.
Furthermore, if rumors are true, Pakistan’s primary backer Saudi Arabia is in the final stage of negotiations to establish diplomatic ties with Israel. It is waiting for President Joe Biden’s upcoming trip to the region to sign on the dotted line.
Pakistan’s other key international partners, China and Turkey, already have growing trade relationships with Israel.
Change of Policy Orientation
Additionally, Pakistan and Israel can benefit from a change of policy orientation — promoting soft power at the expense of hard power and interfaith dialogue instead of enduring violence.
For too long, both countries have exercised military solutions to political problems. The image is not pretty: ethnic killings in Pakistan and systematic violence against Palestinians in Israel.
While Pakistan and Israel are not natural partners, both emerged as ideological Muslim and Jewish states around the same time — Pakistan in 1947 and Israel in 1948 — because of a bloody partition of the territory of the British empire.
Both countries became US allies because of a shared concern for survival and security. It also led to the building of a powerful military-security establishment and the development of nuclear weapons.
However, Israel and Pakistan have followed divergent paths. While Israel shed its international pariah status and became a leading economic and military power in the Middle East, Pakistan has lost significant ground to competitors in South Asia.
Pakistan and the Abraham Accords
As we know, the Trump administration brokered the Abraham Accords in 2020 amid much fanfare. The primary intent was to encourage the normalization of ties between Israel and the Arab world through business and security alliances.
It is slow going as only the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan have so far joined. The idea of increasing the list for normalization to include other Muslim-majority countries like Pakistan seems overly optimistic.
Advancing ties with Israel needs fortitude and strength not shown by previous Pakistani governments. Regrettably, past contact between Islamabad and Jerusalem never got beyond the back-channel stage because of political opposition in Pakistan.
As expected, the visit to Israel drew widespread condemnation in Pakistan, including among the government and opposition. Leaders across the aisle saw it as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause.
Ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan stirred the furor. He described the visit as part of an official, secret, and nefarious government plan to recognize the Jewish state against the wishes of the Pakistani people.
Khan’s political strategy these days includes an unending tirade, blaming his removal on the unsubstantiated US, Indian, and Zionist conspiracies.
It is unlikely that Pakistan’s fragile coalition government has the credibility and time to take the politically risky decision to open dialogue with Israel, especially with Khan snipping at its heels.
Yet, bold decisions are needed for Pakistan to compete in a changing world. On its part, Israel does not have the same compulsions. It can wait for Pakistan to come around indefinitely.
Saad Hafiz is an analyst and commentator on politics, peace, and security issues.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Defense Post.
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