Welcome home, Talat

Published: June 4, 2010
The writer is Director News for Express News and 24/7 (fahd.husain@tribune.com.pk)

The writer is Director News for Express News and 24/7 (fahd.husain@tribune.com.pk)

Aaj News’ Talat Hussain, Raza Agha and another Pakistani Nadeem Khan have been through hell and back. They will have stories to tell.

These stories will most likely cover two broad angles. First, the personal experiences of these three Pakistanis, two of whom are top-notch journalists. Second, the larger debate, our perceptions of Israel as a US-backed bully wreaking havoc in a volatile region. This particular angle will now have a new twist: we’ve always seen Israel and its brutalities through the Arab prism, but now for the first time, we will hear this through a Pakistani narrative couched in a Pakistani context. This could in fact turn out to be a turning point in the way we’ve always perceived Israel, and may give us a deeper, broader and perhaps a more sophisticated understanding of why we should like Israel even less.

In other words, public opinion in Pakistan may swing to a greater extreme against Israel. Here’s why: In 2005 we came dangerously close to being friends with the Jewish state. Our unofficial contacts with Israel go as far back as the 1950s. The venue for hush-hush meetings between Pakistani and Israeli officials has always been in New York where the UN headquarters are housed. Successive Pakistani officials at the UN mission, as well as others with the embassy and consulate have engaged with the Israelis with full consent of their governments. Israel has always perceived Pakistan as a key non-Arab Muslim country which should be wooed diplomatically in a bid to break its isolation within the Islamic world.

Since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and Pakistan’s closeness to the Arab world during the Zulfikar Bhutto years, our public opinion has been virulently anti-Israel. But Israel has not directly affected Pakistan in any significant way. It’s too far away, and its brutal policies have no immediate bearing on Pakistan or its citizens. Our hatred is emotional, academic and borne out of pan-Islamic sentiments.

The Pervez Musharraf years saw Pakistan’s foreign policy becoming less emotional and more focused on our perceived national interests. The ‘Pakistan-first’ slogan also meant that we would be ready to shake hands with anyone as long as it served our interests. A somewhat similar change had happened in the US when the Nixon-Kissinger team had swept into the White House and discarded the sweeping anti-communist ideological policy in favour of a colder rational outlook. This led to the groundbreaking visit by Richard Nixon to China, in which Pakistan had played a key role.

Musharraf saw better ties with Israel as a means to increase Pakistani influence in Washington. His logic was that the powerful Israeli lobby could do wonders for Pakistan among the Americans and reap diplomatic windfalls for us. In 2005 when he visited the US for the UN General Assembly session, Musharraf took a risky step. He attended a dinner in his honour by the American Jewish Congress, a powerful platform for Israelis and the Jewish-American community. I was there at that dinner and vividly remember long-bearded rabbis raising a toast to Pakistan. It was a sight to behold.

At that moment, in that brightly lit hall in the five-star hotel in New York’s famous Times Square, Pakistan and Israel had come closest to each other than they ever had since they became independent nations in 1947 and
1948 respectively.

That was then. This is now. If that was one extreme, we’re about to see the other extreme when Talat Hussain begins to tell his story. In New York in September 2005, Israelis raised a toast to a Pakistani president. In Beersheba in June 2010, Israelis threw three Pakistanis in their prison. Personal contact makes all the difference — whatever the situation.

Welcome home, Talat.

Published in the Express Tribune, June 4th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • Jun 4, 2010 - 12:38AM

    Lets just hope that in future, any direct or indirect contact by Israel and Pakistan is out in the open. As there is bound to be some interaction between the two states. At the very least our government should be open about it. If not, then let the rumour mills churn out conspiracy theories.

    After all, we have notoriously short memories. The three Pakistani’s have returned safely. And whatever the motivations of the government of Pakistan to interact with Israel, that relationship/lack off has survived for many years. Its unlikely to change any time soon. Recommend

  • Fatima Ali Khan
    Jun 4, 2010 - 12:41AM

    Extremely well written Fahd sir!
    Talat’s stories are definitely gonna wash out all hopes people and lobbies like Musharraf had in mind!Recommend

  • qasim
    Jun 4, 2010 - 12:43AM

    Very well written. I am eagerly waiting for Talat’s version. We had secret ties with Isreal in Zia’s era via Charlie Wilson for the sponsorship of Afghan war.

    The ties with Israel have always been there but the problem is of accepting it publicly and that might never ever happen.Recommend

  • Monkey
    Jun 4, 2010 - 2:26AM

    Very, very happy to have Talat Hussain safely back home.Recommend

  • Win
    Jun 4, 2010 - 3:40AM

    Well good for mr talat and co. anyways apart from all the euphoria. Israle is more then usefull partner. why wud any country decalre another one as it enemy just for emotional reasons, it is stupidity. best policy wud be engage anyone who serves ur interest make sure no one has reason to fight you. May be pakistan could play a role in palstine resolution, but if u dont want to even have diplomatic ties how will u resolve a conflict.Recommend

  • faraz
    Jun 4, 2010 - 4:00AM

    During Afghan jihad, Charlie wilson arranged an arms deal between Isreal and Pakistan which included Russian made weapons that Israel had captured from PLO in Lebanon. “Murd e Haq” Zia ul haq was also involved in killings of thousands of Palestinians during the events of Black September 1970. Interestingly people think zionists are behind each and every bad thing happening inside pakistan.Recommend

  • Amjad Mehboob
    Jun 4, 2010 - 7:11PM

    Israel has not directly affected Pakistan in any significant way and its brutal policies have not affected Pakistan or its citizens .Our hatred is emotional.But we have been told by GOD,JEWS could never be our friends.Recommend

  • M. Ismail Khan
    Jun 4, 2010 - 10:36PM

    Fahad sb: brilliant piece as usual.

    In the age of new media, diplomatic relations serve many new purposes such as ‘intelligence gathering, gauging political undercurrents and understanding cultural values’etc among nation.

    It provides avenues to exert subtle and spontaneous pressure on each other thus influencing state behavior. In case of Talat and co, diplomatic relation would have not only allowed direct access to power centers in Isreal but more opportunities to express public outrage by cutting diplomatic ties, kicking Israeli diplomats out of the country and even exploding a bomb or two near embassy’s doors…hence we are missing out on many effective communication opportunities to expose and influence Isreal…. !!Recommend

  • C. M. Naim
    Jun 5, 2010 - 12:08AM

    I’m glad the three journalists are safely home. I also look forward to reading their personal accounts, not that they will tell about the Palestinian plight any more than what many courageous Israelis are writing in Ha’aretz and other journals. Many are also taking risks in order to bring some relief. The three journalists will have the attention of much of Pakistan for a week or so. Having done something for the oppressed in Palestine, they can do something for the persecuted in Pakistan. I request them to take a group of their colleagues and visit with the bereaved families in Lahore and Rabwah, offer their condolences and have a cup of tea with them. Make some small gesture. Otherwise their reports will be no different from the bombastic slogans and columns appearing in Pakistan denouncing Israel. Recommend

  • Nadeem Shahzad khan
    Jun 5, 2010 - 9:52AM

    I am extremely happy to see talat back. Fahad well writtenRecommend

  • Khawar Khawaja
    Jun 5, 2010 - 3:00PM

    The Israel State is a present day Geographical fact. Talking to them or having buissness with them cannot or may not be avoided. But when it is wrong in one way we should have the courage to say to them that it is wrong.

    That is what Turkey did. They have all diplomatic and buissness relations. But when it comes to standing on principle they did not avoid to lock their horns. It is high time Pakistan gets involved along with Turkey to tame this brutal thug. It is not every ones cup of tea. But once we take the right steps it is indeed going to take not long to lock the horns of the bull

    Welcome Talal Saheb and others. I think you all could plant the seedlings and give our nation a new direction Recommend

  • Bashir Solangi
    Jun 6, 2010 - 2:01AM

    When I heard the breaking news that flotilla heading for Gaza has been attacked by IDF and a number of peace activists were killed. The names were not yet announced and in the Guardian of London there was a list of those who were sailing in flotilla and there was name of Talat described as ‘one of the best known TV journalist of Pakistan. My gut reaction was that Talat was among those who killed. I was relieved after hearing the news that Talat and his comrades were safe and sound. Talat is back to his studios and surely he will tell the world about his horrid experience at the hands of ‘most efficient and professional’ IDF.
    Israeli action provoked a furious response from all over the world except that of the US administration but that was not surprising. Turkish response was understandably strong against Israel. This is a welcome development for the region. Traditionally, Turkey has remained indifferent at the Israeli-Arab conflict. Turkey is now clearly aligned in favour Palestinians and has made it clear to the jewish state not to test the patience of Turkey in future. Turkey had reacted strongly when Israel invaded south Lebanon ostensibly to cursh Hizbullah. The myth of invincibility of IDF was broken by Hizbullah and Israel must still be sulking away. Turkey strongly reacted once again when IDF launched all out military action against Gazans.Recommend

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