There are bad policies, and then there are senseless policies. The good thing about bad policies is that they can be changed. The problem with senseless policies is that they are path dependent and nobody knows why they are there to begin with. Changing them, hence, is a challenge nobody is willing to take.
Pakistan’s position on Israel is one of those senseless policies that have been in practice for over seven decades handicapped by inertia, propaganda and misplaced emotions that no one dares to even question the need to revise the policy.
As a foreign policy realist, I have long been a strong proponent for a major disruption in Pakistan’s foreign policy that includes opening up of ties with Israel as a necessary step to balance Pakistan’s Middle East equation, win favourable position in Washington, DC, and most importantly have one enemy less in a seemingly hostile neighbourhood.
One could understand Pakistan’s position on Israel back in 1950s and 1960s; the need to be part of the Ummah, reap the benefits of growing Islamic bloc, etc despite the fact that the Ummah provided little support to Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. But 1970s onwards Pakistan’s policy not to recognise Israel is plain ridiculous.
For one, the Arab-Israel issues got reduced down to Palestine-Israel issue with major stakeholders, including Jordan, Egypt and to an extent Turkey, developing full diplomatic and trade ties with Israel. Even Saudi Arabia, the bastion of Islam, has maintained backdoor channels with Israel ever since the Iran Revolution and there are whispers that under Muhammad bin Salman, Saudis are in the process of officially recognising Israel. That leaves Pakistan as a loser in this regional game where it is the only one left playing a game that is not even its own and for no reason. Yet, there is no one in the policy community to recognise and rectify this costly adventure.
Second, in changing global political alliances, Pakistan at least needs its full hand of cards to play with. Going by the first rule of foreign policy playbook that there are no permanent friends or foes, only interests, one wonders what national interest the Pakistani civil and military leadership is pursuing by creating an additional enemy out of a potential ally. Especially, if Pakistan can open up with Russia — a country that we fought an entire proxy war for the Americans, have ties with arch enemy India and continue to have relations with Myanmar after Rohingya genocide it doesn’t make sense why there can’t be a change of heart towards Israel.
In all my discussions with the high-ups of the Pakistani security establishment, politicians and diplomats there is a high acceptance and willingness to engage with Israel. The problem is that nobody wants to take the lead and responsibility fearing a backlash from the right-wing religious hawks that wrongly put it as a religious issue. The result is that Pakistan’s foreign policy has continued to suffer due to its shortsighted and spineless leadership that fears mullah more than Allah.
Pakistan’s stale Israel policy reflects a deeper level rot in its governance, inability to change and non-strategic personalised foreign policy. Take for instance Pakistan’s bi-relations with Saudi Arabia. It’s more of a House of Saud and House of Sharif relation than a state-to-state level relation. The US-Pak relations are in reality Pakistan military and US relations. Same is the case with Pakistan’s relations with Turkey, Iran and the UK. Essentially, the ruling elite in Pakistan have used the state to garner and develop its personal interests at the expense of national interests — a tragedy that inhibits Pakistan from any real policy change.
Make no mistake; Pakistan’s Israel policy is not driven by any grandiose ideas of human rights or Muslim solidarity, and especially not out of any national interest. The senseless policy on Israel continues to exist because the elite don’t see any personal or institutional benefit in the relation. The day our leadership sees a personal financial or military benefit, no fear of mullah or Allah can stop. Until then, Pakistan will continue with its senseless policy expecting a different result in its global standing.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2018.