After rolling out a royal welcome for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in India last month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will go to Ramallah on Saturday, leaving some in Pakistan – India’s archrival – asking whether a formula of maintaining constructive ties with both sides is something Pakistan should adopt.
While Pakistan has strong ties with the Palestinians, it has no diplomatic relations with Israel.
The two countries flirted between 2004 and 2005 when Gen. Pervez Musharraf was president.
But that flirtation, which peaked with a public meeting of both country’s foreign ministers in Turkey in 2005, petered out because of considerable domestic problems inside Pakistan and Musharraf’s resignation in 2008.
India’s formula is not overly complicated: Historic ties with the Palestinians does not mean that there must be no relationship with Israel, and good ties with Israel does not mean cutting off the Palestinians.
This policy will be on full display on Saturday when Modi starts a three-stop visit in the region – the Palestinian Authority, Oman and the United Arab Emirates – by going to Ramallah for a few hours. This will be what the Indians call a stand-alone visit, with the Indian president going only to Ramallah and not coming to Israel. In July, Modi came to Israel for a three-day visit without going to the PA.
In an op-ed this week in Pakistan’s The Daily Times, columnist Mohsin Saleem Ullah, who is a student at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, wrote – under the headline “Is trade between Pakistan and Israel possible? – that “praiseworthy eco-political syncretism” has developed Israel and India.
“These relations are predominantly the outcome of converging interests,” he wrote, adding that “a symbiotic union has developed – India’s free markets and multifarious needs are irresistible to Israeli enterprises keen to set up their franchises abroad.
India now endues [sic] Israel to dispense many of the technologies it needs to cater to its vast population.”
According to Ullah, “New Delhi’s tech relationship with Tel Aviv hasn’t gone unobserved and perhaps surprisingly, one country that has observed it and may imitate the relationship in the future is Pakistan.”
Ullah wrote that India’s government and business leaders ditched their previous reluctance to deal with Israel when they realized that Israel’s technology can help India’s people live better lives.
“The cost versus benefit analysis that made India conquer its historic Israel-aversion is now being embraced, at least to some extent, by Pakistan,” he wrote.
“In recent months, countless articles and statements by Pakistani pundits and scholars – and even political figures – have depicted a courageous attempt by appearing on mainstream Pakistani talk shows to voice support for Islamabad to follow New Delhi’s example.”
Ullah said Pakistanis endorsing better ties argue that Israel can help their country not only with technology but also with its international relations.
“The Jewish community all around the world can help Pakistan to elevate its image as an emerging friendly nation,” he wrote, quoting an “advocate for opening ties with Israel.”
Another opinion piece in the same paper in late January by columnist Muhammad Tahir Iqbal said while India pursues ties based on “foreign policy pragmatism,” Pakistan’s policy is “often determined by religio- political and ideological” sentiments. “Pakistan has always been inimical to Israel in open support to Palestine at every forum.”
But Pakistan has what to learn from India’s pragmatism, he wrote, quoting Britain’s 19th-century prime minister Henry John Temple: There are “no eternal allies and no perpetual enemies. Interests are eternal and perpetual.”
And Kamran Yousaf, a defense and diplomatic correspondent for the Express Tribune, another major English Pakistani daily, wrote on January 29: “No matter how we perceive Israel, the fact is it is very smart and has a robust foreign policy. After all, diplomacy is the art of making new friends and avoiding confrontation with countries with which you don’t have the best of relations.”
“Should Pakistan revisit its decades-old policy towards Israel then?” he asked. “Pakistan’s Israel policy historically has been driven by the position taken by the larger Muslim world against the Jewish state. But as a matter of fact proponents of that policy have now themselves embraced the change. Saudi Arabia is the prime example. It is an open secret that Saudi Arabia and Israel have been talking to each other for many years now to at least maintain some contacts if not establishing full diplomatic relations.”
Pakistan does not necessarily “need to compromise on its principled stance on the Palestinian issue or recognize Israel,” he wrote. “But Islamabad can at least explore the possibility of maintaining a working relationship with Israel to protect its strategic interests.”
Like Ullah, he also cited the “Jewish lobby” as a reason for considering a change of policy.
“Opening channels of communication with Israel can give a whole new perspective to Pakistan- US ties given the influence of the Jewish lobby in Washington, DC,” he wrote.
Despite voices such as those appearing in the Pakistani media, a spokesman in the Foreign Ministry said he does not know of any new developments regarding the possibility of a change in ties with Pakistan.