Pakistani Overtures to Israel remain locked in Detente

In early November, Israel rolled out red carpets for Pakistani General Musharraf’s envoys following secret talks through diplomatic and informal channels with the expectation that a formidable erstwhile foe will finally come round to recognising its illegal creation.

For the Sharon regime the arrival in Tel Aviv of a 134-member delegation of political figures, retired officers and businessmen from a powerful Muslim country which until now does not have diplomatic ties with Israel, is viewed as a historic event.

While Sharon has been basking in the glory of a major public relations coup which has been credited to the lobbying efforts of the American based Council of World Jewry, Israel has not been faring well in the court of public opinion which may succeed in ensuring that the Pakistani population revolts against the General’s unpopular moves.

And indications are there to suggest that Musharraf may in fact be having second thoughts about risking his own political and military grip over Pakistan by enmeshing himself with an apartheid state which refuses to confer any rights to the displaced and occupied people of Palestine.

One such signal has been Pakistan’s refusal to accept an offer of direct aid from Israel for victims of the earthquake. The other is the fact that Israel was not invited to an 18-19 November donor conference in Islamabad. These reveal that though Musharraf may be under pressure from Washington to open formal ties with Israel, his earlier excitement seems to be waning.

Having usurped power in Pakistan through a military coup, Musharraf is keenly aware that being embraced by George Bush as a key ally in Washington’s "War on Terror" provides him and his fellow generals protection and security. Democratic ideals for Pakistan and the notion of liberties for its people can therefore be sacrificed in this alliance.

Instead, by turning a blind eye to the draconian nature of Musharraf’s reign, the rewards for the neo-con establishment far exceed the imperatives of a free society. They recognise that the arbitrary nature of their unilateralism as the only game to play allows military leaders such as Musharraf to follow suit.

Hence, ‘toenadering’ [getting close] with Sharon is an unilateral imposition. Musharraf’s folly which is regularly disguised as ‘wise leadership’ in the American media is well known by his critics. That his ranking in western circles is high is contrasted by his low popularity in Pakistan. Yet, by allowing himself to be used as a pawn, his military training ought to warn him about the ease with which vulnerable people can be manipulated.

Having raised expectations in Israel, the Pakistani military junta is fully cognisant of the anger and frustration its talks and visits to the zionist state is causing back home. This has also given rise to new debates on the future of Pakistan under a military command which takes its orders from the likes of Rumsfeld and Rice.

Further public agitation has been fuelled by this too. "Why should we recognise Israel when it fails to recognise legitimate demands of the Palestinians?" is now part of the national discourse in the streets, mosques and bazaars of Pakistan.

Will Musharraf heed the implicit warnings in this internal debate by finding an honourable retreat or will his folly carry the day?