President General Musharraf’s statement on the possibility of recognizing Israel has not only spawned a passionate debate in the media, we have also come to know that the Government of Pakistan has recently been in touch with the Government of Israel through unofficial visits of some Pakistanis. Regarding the issue of recognizing Israel, there are two clear-cut camps in the country. Those pleading for recognizing Israel can be called the realpolitikers. They argue that recognizing Israel is a good thing: many Arab and Islamic countries have established contacts with Israel, diplomatic ties with Israel will favor Pakistan because a friendly Israel will be an asset in Pakistan’s quest for permanent support of the US. Moreover, Pakistan will be able to influence Israel in the latter’s dealing with the Palestinians. The realpolitikers also argue that the ever-growing Indian-Israeli cooperation in defense and economic areas will not be good for Pakistan in the long run. They are encouraged by the statement of Israel’s UN representative that Israel will treat Pakistan on its own, regardless of the nature of India-Israel relations.
The opposing group—the idealists—argues that Pakistan must not recognize Israel, even if all Arab and Muslim countries recognize it. The idealists say that Israel is an illegitimate state established by Empire at the cost of the blood of innocent Palestinians. They cite continued and ever-expanding occupation of Palestine and never-ending brutal treatment of the Palestinians by the Jewish state.
There are two interesting observations one can make about the entire debate: one, it is in the English language part of the media that one finds the overwhelming presence of the pro-Israel group; and, two, it is the Urdu journalism that is the main fountainhead of the voice of the anti-Israel group. Another interesting, though unusual, point to note is that both groups have suggested putting the issue of recognizing Israel to referendum, claiming that the masses will listen to their respective points of view.
The debate about Israel is fraudulent. Why? The answer lies in the subtext of the following: Despite all the brouhaha over recognizing Israel, no one has suggested that the matter be discussed in the Parliament. No parliamentarian has formally raised the matter in the House. And no one has ever said that with the Parliament and the Cabinet in place, who gave Musharraf the authority to harp on the Israel issue.
People and politicians in Pakistan do not have—and have never had for decades—viable political authority. Pakistan’s contemporary history does not offer a single instance when the Pakistan Army allowed the democratically elected representatives of the masses to make a significant decision on their own. Democracy is what the generals hate and ridicule most. In order to satisfy their unbound lust for power and pelf, the Army either kills democracy through illegal, treasonous coups d’etat, or engineers democratic setups by rigging elections and installing dummies and milquetoasts whose authority is no better than that of a chattel. Whether the Army’s governance remains visible, like in the cases of Generals Ayub, Zia and Musharraf, or invisible, like in the cases of Generals Beg, Janjua, or Kakar, civilians have no say over an issue that makes or mars their own lives: Kashmir, Afghanistan, the jihadi terrorism in and outside Pakistan, the national budget, political alliances for contesting elections, and appointments of senior officers in the bureaucracy and the military, to cite a few example. Law and the Constitution are wax that the Army moulds to its own advantage, and at will: forced constitutional amendments to indemnify the illegal actions of the Army personnel and enhance General-President’s powers over civilian government, the establishment of accountability laws and commissions that have no jurisdiction over the armed forces, and feudalistic privileges that the Army officers are entitled to that cannot be challenged in a court of law.
Hence recognizing Israel is a non-issue. The Army has carried out defense cooperation in the past; it was in 1980 when Pakistan-Israel defense cooperation began under the guardianship of the then President-cum-Chief Martial Law Administrator General Zia. The Army will recognize Israel when it thinks the right time has come, and that it will gain whatever gains it is expecting. It was after meeting George Bush in Camp David when General Musharraf soliloquized on recognizing Israel, citing “national interests”. His derision for the Pakistanis, their elected representatives, and their ability and authority to guard the “national interests” is obvious from the fact that he never even once said that he would put the matter before the parliament and/or the cabinet back home. Whatever their legitimacy, the elected members of the parliament (Most of them got elected because the Army debarred a number of politicians from participating in general elections.) stand for democracy and people’s dignity. Everyone knows that the matter of recognizing Israel will be put on the agenda of the Corpse Commanders’ meeting. Period.
I think that it is not to the Pakistanis that General Musharraf is playing the Israel issue, but to the United States in order to prove how courageous he is and that he is the man to trust with guarding the American interests in South Asia and beyond. In other words, he wants the United States to allow the Army to continue to rule Pakistan with himself as its head. Musharraf has already become a darling of George Bush for his “courageous” stand on behalf of the United States. An Israeli-friendly nuclear Pakistan will have some definite implications for Iran, Israel’s most hated state and a part of American-declared “Axis of Evil”. Imagine the kudos that awaits the General-President, the man who has stolen Pakistan’s presidency. He will for sure steal more limelight.
Abbas Zaidi writes for The Nation, Lahore (Pakistan). His writings have appeared, amongst others, in Exquisite Corpse, The Salisbury Review, and Southern Oceanic Review. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Pakistan.