Now that the war in Iraq is over, is it time for Pakistan to recognize Israel? This is a question that has intrigued many Pakistani intellectuals, journalists, politicians and even military strategists since 1950. The answer, now, should be a whopping yes!
The recognition will be a blessing to Pakistan and to Pakistanis. Frankly speaking, it will be the first time that our self-proclaimed guardian -- the Pakistan army -- would make a wise decision; the right move at the right time.
At the moment, the international doors are slammed for a majority of Pakistanis, be they students, businessmen or any hardworking skilled laborer. All they want is a bright future for themselves and their children. All they get is a corrupt Pakistani militaristic, feudal elite tied to a corrupt core of mullahs from Islamic extremist parties.
Since Sept. 11, thousands of our brilliant students, who even received admission to MIT, Harvard, Columbia and Berkeley, have been denied visas. The treatment is almost the same as turning toward Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.
In contrast, rival India, being the fastest-growing economy in the world along with China, has succeeded in sending the largest number of foreign students to the United States and elsewhere, surpassing China.
Against this depressing background, Israeli education institutions can offer a great deal of help for Pakistani students who would be able to get U.S.-equivalent degrees at less than one-fourth of the cost.
A careful perusal of archival and other materials indicates that from the beginning, both Pakistan and Israel have been quietly pursuing one another. Their contacts were more than diplomatic niceties or polite conversation; they often have involved a degree of convergence of Israeli and Pakistani interests.
At one time or another, important Pakistani leaders were sympathetic toward Israel or facilitated interactions with Israeli leaders, diplomats or officials.
They were not alone. A number of times, a host of Pakistani officials and diplomats have met, discussed and at times dined with Israeli officials and held private meetings in Rangoon, Kathmandu, Tokyo, Ottawa and elsewhere.
Israeli diplomats regularly monitored and reported the movements of their Pakistani counterparts, and curriculum vitae of Pakistani envoys are regularly sent to Jerusalem for future contacts.
Influential Jewish leaders like Edmund de Rothchild have privately operated, and at times funded, efforts to further Israeli-Pakistani normalization.
Israel has been more interested in normalization than Pakistan. Even though Pakistan is not a vital area for Israel, one can not underestimate its importance in the Islamic world. The nuclear tests of May 1998 further enhanced its importance.
The first Israel-Pakistan contact was established in 1948 when Pakistan's first foreign minister, Sir Zafarullah Khan, counseled the Arabs to allow the establishment of the Jewish State. Encouraged by this assessment, Chaim Weizmann wrote to the foreign minister in January 1948, drawing parallels between Israel and Pakistan: "Many problems will be common to both of us, and it is my earnest hope that it may be possible for us to deal with them together, and in cooperation, for the good of both of our people."
Analysts suggest that had Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan's first premier, not been murdered, Pakistan would have become the first Islamic country in 1949 to have recognized Israel.
In late 1949, Israel U.N. Ambassador Abba Eban reported, "The Pakistani representative at the U.N. was scheming to embarrass India by bringing his government to recognize Israel before India did."
On April 7, 1952, accompanied by political counselor Gideon Rafael, Eban met his Pakistani counterpart, A.S. Bokari, and discussed Sir Zafrullah Khan's statements.
Continuing this dialogue on Jan. 14, 1953, Eban and Rafael met Khan in New York and discussed the issue of Pakistani recognition of Israel. Khan disclosed that his government had now retreated from its favorable approach adopted by its predecessor as the present government of Khawaja Nazimunddin (1951-53) was weaker and more susceptible to public pressure from Muslim extremists.
Pakistan's first democratically elected prime minister, the charismatic Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, could be termed as being staunchly anti-Israel. However, a close observation shows things were not such in Bhutto's early days.
After a March 1953 meeting between Pakistan Foreign Minister Sir Firoz Khan Noon and his Israeli counterpart Shabtai Rosenne, Rosenne recorded: "On the more general level [Bhutto] seems to admire us both militarily and socially, and I think he was sincere in his" expression of regret at his inability to visit Israel."
The dreaded dictator Zia ul-Haq skillfully exploited Islam to legitimize his rule. "Pakistan is like Israel," he said, "an ideological state. Take out Judaism from Israel and it will fall like house of cards. Take Islam out of Pakistan and make it a secular state; it would collapse."
But Haq, in March 1986, surprised everyone when he openly called on the PLO to recognize the Jewish State. Haq was also actively involved both in the 1970 Black September massacre of Palestinians, when he was in charge of a Jordanian brigade to quell Palestinian rebellion against Shah Hussain, as well as in Egypt's re-entry into the Islamic fold.
In September 1995, The News reported that "during the Afghan war highly skilled Israelis provided guerrilla training to some Afghan groups and in the later stage of the Afghan war the chief of Pakistan's most respected intelligence service [ISI] had held a top secret meeting with a senior Mossad official in Vienna."
Though difficult to prove such reports, the Pakistani media in general suggest that cooperation with Israel is beneficial to Pakistan and is no longer anathema.
In May 1996, another report suggested that Pakistani law enforcement officials met with the top brass of Israeli intelligence during a conference on counter-terrorism in the Philippines. In several one-on-one sessions during the conference, two senior major generals and three brigadiers from Israeli intelligence met the senior Pakistani officials to listen and explain their methods and strategies to deal with the worse wave of terrorism facing the two nations.
With that in mind, the Tel Aviv-based Jafee Center for Strategic Studies has recommended four models for Pakistan to recognize Israel:
The Turkish Model: Pakistan can recognize Israel without establishing diplomatic relations immediately.
The Iranian Model: Pakistan can follow the precedent set by the Shah of Iran and recognize the Jewish State, but maintain its relationship under wraps.
The Jordanian Model: It can imitate the Jordanians prior to full recognition and maintain close political as well as military relations with the Jewish State without granting any official recognition.
The Chinese Model: It can adopt the Chinese example and view military contacts as a means of promoting political relations.
Whichever model the leaders of Pakistan choose, they should move forward to do so immediately. It would be a boon to Israel, and a blessing to the Pakistani people.