Summer 2003
By  Abbas Zaidi
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The Israel Card

President General Musharraf’s recent statement about the possibility of recognising Israel has not only spawned a passionate debate in the Pakistani media, but has already initiated unofficial contacts between the government of Pakistan and the government of Israel via unofficial visits by certain Pakistanis. 

Regarding the issue of Israel’s recognition, there are two clear-cut camps in the country. Those pleading for the recognition of  Israel can be called the realpolitikers. They put forth the argument that many Arab and Islamic countries have already established official contacts with Israel, and that diplomatic ties with Israel favour Pakistan because a friendly Israel will be an asset in Pakistan’s quest for the permanent support of the US. Moreover, Pakistan will be able to influence Israel in the latter’s dealing with the Palestinians. The realpolitikers also argue that a growing Indian-Israeli cooperation in defence and economic areas will not be good for Pakistan in the long run and are encouraged by the statement of Israel’s UN represen- tative that Israel will treat Pakistan apart from and regardless of the nature of India-Israel relations.

The opposing group—the idealists—argues that Pakistan must not recognise Israel even if all the Arab and Muslim countries should do so. The idealists say that Israel is an illegitimate state established by empire at the cost of the blood of innocent Palestinians. They cite Israel’s continued and ever- expanding occupation of Palestine and its never-ending brutal treatment of the Palestinians by the Jewish state. 

There are two interesting observations one can make about this debate. The first is that it is in the English-language media that one finds an overwhelming presence of the pro-Israel group; and, secondly, that it is in the Urdu press one finds the main fountainhead of the anti-Israel voice. Another interesting  point to note is that both groups have suggested putting the issue of the recognition of Israel to a referendum, confident that the great mass of the population will listen to their own  point of view. 

But the debate about Israel, no matter how each side frames it, is a fraudulent one. The reason why lies in the fact that, in the brouhaha about recognising Israel, no one has suggested the matter be decided in the parliament. No parliamentarian has formally raised the matter in the House. And no one in the parliament or the cabinet currently in place has even raised the question: Who gave Musharraf the authority to make the recognition of Israel an issue in the first place?

Neither the people nor the politicians in Pakistan have not—and have not had for decades—any viable governmental authority. Pakistan’s recent history does not offer a single instance when the Pakistan Army allowed democra- tically elected representatives to make a significant decision on their own. Democracy is what the generals hate and ridicule. In order to satisfy their appetite for power, the Army either kills democratic movements outright through illegal, treasonous coups d’etat, or it engineers rigged elections and installs puppets and milquetoasts whose authority is no greater than that of a cow. 

Whether the Army’s governance remains visible, as in the cases of Generals Ayub, Zia and Musharraf, or sub rosa as was the case with Generals Beg, Janjua or Kakar, civilians have no say over any substantive issue that makes or mars their own lives. Kashmir, Afghanistan, the jihadi terrorism in and outside Pakistan, the national budget, political alliances for the sake of contesting elections, and appointments of senior officers in the bureaucracy and the military are but a few examples that come to mind. The Law and the Constitution are merely balls of wax that the Army moulds to its own fancy and at will: forced constitutional amendments to indemnify illegal acts of Army personnel and enhance the general-president’s powers over civilian govern- ment; the establishment of accountability laws and commissions that have no jurisdiction over the armed forces, and feudalistic privileges that Army officers are entitled to and which cannot be challenged in a court of law. 

The recognition or non-recognition of Israel is a non-issue. The Army has carried out defense cooperations with Israel in the past, beginning in 1980 under then-President-cum-Chief-Martial-Law-Administrator General Zia. The Army will officially recognize Israel when it thinks the right time has come, i.e. when it judges such recognition is to its best advantage. It was after meeting George Bush in Camp David that General Musharraf soliloquized about the recognition of Israel, citing “national interests.” His contempt for Pakistanis, their elected representatives and their ability and authority to determine their own national interests is obvious from the fact that he never once said that he would put the matter before parliament and/or the cabinet back home. Whatever their legitimacy, the elected members of parliament (most of them got elected because the Army debarred a number of alternative candidates from participating in general elections) at least stand for a modicum of democracy and popular dignity. Everyone knows the question of Israel’s recognition will be put on an agenda for the Corps Commanders’ meeting. Period. 

It is not really to the Pakistanis that General Musharraf is playing up the Israel issue but to the United States government, to prove how courageous he is and that he is the man to trust with guarding American interests in South Asia and beyond. In other words, he wants the United States to allow the Army to continue to rule Pakistan with himself as its head. Musharraf has already become George Bush’s darling for his “courageous” stand on behalf of the United States post-9/11. An Israeli-friendly nuclear Pakistan will have definite implications for Iran, Israel’s enemy and part of the American-declared “Axis of Evil.” With Iraq already in the bag, Pakistan’s role as safeguard of American interests east of the Euphrates, as well as Musharraf’s own continued rule, however illegitimate, is assured.