Shaukat Malik is a Muslim-American Certified Public Accountant from Potomac. He left his native Pakistan in 1972 and has been living in the United States since 1980.
People of all faiths have fought each other in the past but that does not mean that animosity must survive in perpetuity. This is madness. Christians of the inquisition era victimized Jews and Muslims in Europe, but that has not stopped Jews and Christians from building bridges of understanding and sharing common values that promote the well being of everyone.
The whole world knows about the Palestinian problem, yet that has not stopped some Muslim countries from dealing and having diplomatic relations with Israel. This engagement and recognition has yielded peace dividends and allowed these states to focus on economic development and the well-being of their peoples.
Why has Turkey recognized Israel? The answer is not that complicated. Proud Turkey boasts the second largest army in NATO. It analyzed its own self-interest in joining the European Common Market and determined that recognizing Israel would help Turkish interests. Turkish people as Muslims are equally concerned about the plight of Palestinians, but this concern has not stopped Turkey from doing what is best for Turkey.
In its efforts to meet constitutional and legal requirements for membership in the European Union, the Islamic party in Turkey long viewed with suspicion by Turkey’s guardians of secularism – namely, the Turkish army – has emerged as a champion of democracy and reform. They have succeeded in presenting a brand of secular Islam that allows for separation of church and state with complete freedom of religion. This action does not mean that Turkey has lost its cultural identity or abolished Islam; on the contrary, it has given more freedoms to Turkish citizens to practice their cherished faiths.
This transformation has weakened the hands of autocratic forces led by adventurous generals who have toppled elected governments in the past. Turkey’s success can be used as a benchmark for all Muslim countries in different phases of democratization.
Like Turkey, Pakistan has a history of military intervention by adventurous generals who have in the past exploited a weak judiciary and an undereducated elected assembly to seize power. Through this process, Pakistan has been denied the economic and political success enjoyed by its neighbor and birth twin, India.
Why have many Muslim countries not recognized Israel?
Most of the Muslim world outside the Middle East has no border dispute with Israel. Israel’s rejection is based on the principle of showing solidarity with the homeless Palestinian people. But does such rejection really serve the interests of the homeless people of Palestine? The answer is a clear No.
Self-serving autocratic rulers, both military and civil, running pseudo-democracies have used the plight of the Palestinian people to harvest support among a largely illiterate and emotional Muslim population. Instead of taking concrete steps to assist the dispossessed Palestinian people with real economic support through capital investment, their support is mostly in the form of votes at the United Nations.
By engaging Israel and its people, a better solution could have been found many years ago. Religion is one of the greatest unifying tools on earth. Today, instead of identifying common bonds shared by Muslims with their Jewish and Christian brothers as fellow children of Abraham, the religious clerics are busy infusing young Muslims with hatred especially for the state of Israel and Jews in general. Middle Eastern donors wishing to export their brand of theocratic Islam have empowered religious groups throughout the world to foment and nurture hatred against the state of Israel.
The Islamic parties in Pakistan have always failed to draw enough votes because their ideology of establishing a theocracy with a caliphate or king does not appeal to the average Pakistani. Separated by the sea, a Pakistani has little in common with a Middle Eastern Arab. Yet the Islamic parties are busy transforming madrassa children and ordinary illiterate Pakistanis into Arabs.
The United States is a prime example of Jewish-Christian friendship and understanding.
The Jewish community in America is a model community that has excelled in business, education, politics and philanthropy. Jewish leaders walked arm in arm with Martin Luther King during his march on Washington. Jewish leadership has secured many of the rights enjoyed today by all immigrants. Congress has many Jewish members who are elected on the strength of their political credentials. AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is a very successful lobbying organization that protects Israel’s interests by influencing American foreign policy.
The American political system allows lobbying and this process is open to anyone. Many other communities who wish to influence American foreign policy with respect to their country of origin have emulated American Jews. Tha Indian community is a case in point. Self-serving commentators will identify India’s friendship with Israel as a direct threat to Pakistan’s nuclear capability and will lobby against any friendship with Israel. I think Pakistan’s recognition of Israel would be extremely useful to Pakistan for Pakistan’s own development.
It is human nature to support friends. Pakistan’s non-recognition of Israel has brought the Indian and Israeli lobbies closer. By identifying the Israeli and Indian lobbies as one, the mullahs in Pakistan are feeding anti-Israel sentiment using the well-established anti-India sentiment. They forget that actions taken by the United States in matters of the state are based on America’s own national interests and are influenced by many sources including America’s think tanks and of course the voter.
Muslim rulers, both military and civilian, will never touch the issues of recognizing Israel or repealing Islamic laws that mirror Saudi Arabia’s theocratic laws for fear of losing support among a population infected by the anti-Israel venom. The reason for this stance is poor political leadership and lack of vision on the part of those responsible for steering their country’s foreign policy. Military dictators and journeymen have focused on occupying the seat of power as opposed to formulating a policy that serves their country’s future interests.
At the heart of the Muslim/Jewish divide is the plight of the homeless Palestinian. This issue is the rallying cry of al Qaida for recruiting young men. A solution to this issue, no matter how unpalatable for the people, of Israel must be sought. Both Israelis and Palestinians must acknowledge each other and learn to live with each other by overcoming past grievances and hurt. Arab countries that border Israel feel a sense of loss and shame at losing the 1967 war and territory to a much smaller neighbor. More pragmatic countries like Egypt and Jordan have made peace keeping their respective national interests in mind.
No dispute can be solved without engagement. The time has come for Israel to acknowledge and celebrate its shared history with Muslims. As the most developed country in the Middle East, Israel can play a very important development role and in the process become a great economic power by exporting to its many Muslim neighbors and the rest of the Muslim world.
Israel, as the only democracy in the Middle East, must make every effort through communications channels already open through the United States to at least reach out to countries such as Pakistan, an important American ally.
Designers of Pakistan’s foreign policy have never analyzed the fact that Pakistan has no territorial dispute with Israel. Pakistan’s foreign policy has been shaped and molded by military dictatorships overly concerned with self-preservation at the expense of Pakistan’s future. Unfortunately, there are no think tanks in Pakistan that can provide unbiased advice.
Pakistan’s overall concern should be peace in its immediate neighborhood. It should focus on ties and good relations with countries that can have a direct effect on Pakistan’s future. Pakistan can empathize with the plight of the Palestinians, but that does not mean it should not recognize Israel. Pragmatism must override emotionalism.
Israel is a close friend and ally of the United States. Pakistan’s non-recognition of Israel has a direct negative effect on U.S. policy towards Pakistan. This is exploited to the fullest by forces that oppose Pakistan.
Destiny and history have brought America and Pakistan together to fight the Soviets in 1979 and the Taliban – a byproduct of the Afghan war – beginning in 2001.Today America is Pakistan’s most important partner in the war against the Taliban and al Qaida. Pakistan’s own national interest and existing geopolitical environment demand that it establish good relations with America’s close ally.
America’s relationship with Pakistan over the years has been event-led and one of convenience as opposed to the deep and permanent bond it has with Israel. This is in spite of the fact that Pakistan and America have a more than 60-year history of cooperation. Unfortunately, relationships between countries are by their very nature controlled by respective national interests and not emotions.
A Pakistan-first policy must be embraced by placing Pakistan’s national interest above all others. Politicians and generals will come and go, but Pakistan must survive to nurture future generations and provide them a place they can proudly call home. This is exactly how successful nations have survived the ravages of war, natural disasters and misfortune.
Saudi Arabia, like Pakistan, is a very important and strategic ally of the United States. Its importance is rooted in America’s dependence on Saudi oil. Saudi Arabia’s non-recognition of Israel is based on its own narrow national Interests. However, this has not stopped Egypt, Jordan and Qatar – who, unlike Pakistan, are neighbors and fellow Arabs – from recognizing and establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.
Pakistani politicians can offer Turkey’s recognition along with Israel’s Arab neighbors as an example to counter a generally anti-Israel population in Pakistan. This is not difficult if the politicians and the Pakistani Army are on board. All it takes is a sensible leadership to talk sense. We must ask a simple question. What is in Pakistan’s national interest? The United States can play a very important role in promoting confidence-building measures between Israel and Pakistan.
Establishing friendly relations between the two nuclear-armed democracies of Israel and Pakistan will be a win for all parties concerned. Recognition by Pakistan, the only nuclear-armed majority Muslim country in the world, will have a significant psychological and symbolic effect on the Muslim world at large. Here are some of the positive developments among many others that will result from such a relationship:
• Israel will be keen to solve the Palestinian dispute to improve relations with other large Muslim countries, such as Indonesian and Malaysia.
• Permanence in stable relations between the United States and Pakistan based on mutual respect will automatically evolve.
• Confirmation of non-existence of any territorial or sovereignty dispute between Israel and Pakistan will allow the establishment of normal peaceful and friendly relations between Israel and Pakistan. Also celebration of a shared relgious history with the Jewish people as fellow children of Abraham.
• Acceptance by Israel of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons as a deterrent for Pakistan’s own security needs against a much larger neighbor, as opposed to an Islamic bomb to be handed over to terrorists for use against the state of Israel. Reassurance of safety of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons as confirmed by the United States will go a long way towards defusing fears fueled by media propaganda and political rhetoric.
• Assurance from Israel that it has no designs in collusion with India to attack Pakistan nuclear facilities and wishes friendly relations with Pakistan. This will help allay fears in Pakistan about an imminent attack by Israel on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities near Islamabad.
• Cooperation between Israel and Pakistan in development and defense areas. Like the Israel Defense Forces, Pakistan’s military army is equipped mostly with U.S. made equipment. Spare parts for the Pakistani Army can be acquired from Israel at reasonable prices with low transportation costs.
• Americans will view a Pakistan that recognizes America’s friendship with Israel in a more favorable light. Pakistan’s support among America’s population will increase tenfold through favorable media coverage.
• Better reception from Congress for helping solve the Kashmir and water issues with Pakistan’s giant neighbor India. The United States can assist in improving ties and mutually beneficial trade between Pakistan and India.
• India’s influence in Washington to lobby against Pakistan-centric U.S. policy issues will be neutralized.
• Trade with Israel will help Pakistan acquire advanced technology in areas of telecommunications, defense and medicine. Pakistan has a very large young population that is in desperate need of jobs. Israel could help establish manufacturing plants in Pakistan.
• A very large, economically powerful Jewish community in the United States and Europe will welcome such a move and increase foreign direct investment in Pakistan.
• Israel’s drip-dry irrigation system is the envy of the world. Water shortages predicted for Pakistan must be attacked by using technology and knowhow developed by the Israelis to grow crops in desert areas.
• Israel has developed expertise in the manufacture of low-cost generic drugs. A poor country such as Pakistan could benefit from Israeli knowhow.
• Trade between Israel and Pakistan will help neutralize the anti-Israeli stance of religious parties in Pakistan.
• Other Muslim countries under a similar influence of anti-Israel sentiment, but with no territorial or sovereignty disputes with Israel, could also recognize Israel and establish relations. Such recognition would also prompt Israel to settle the Palestinian dispute and earn bonus points with its new trading partners.
It is up to the Pakistani leadership to recognize Pakistan’s present position as a close ally of the United States and capitalize on this special relationship and make Pakistan economically strong. In summary, recognizing Israel is in Pakistan’s national interest.