Under the rather enigmatic title “A little modesty”, the weekend magazine of Ha’aretz features a long interview with former Pakistani president Musharraf. However, on the newspaper’s website, a different title highlights what the editor presumably regarded as the interview’s most noteworthy revelation: “Relations with Israel could help Pakistan, says former president Musharraf.”
To dedicated Ha’aretz readers who love the paper for its hypercritical coverage of Israel, this should sound most startling: What about Israel’s so much deserved and supposedly ever growing isolation?!?! Indeed, why on earth would the Islamic Republic of Pakistan – a regional power with the seventh largest standing armed forces in the world and (so far) the only Muslim state with nuclear arms, the 6th most populous and the 36th largest country in the world – feel that relations with the tiny Jewish state could be in any way helpful?
Well, it turns out that Musharraf is a firm believer in the almighty “Israel Lobby” – though he might not have read the notorious book. He regards himself as an independent thinker, and he believes that “because of Jewish influence, the U.S. is totally pro-Israel.” Moreover, Musharraf also thinks that “Israel has clout in the media […and] the Jewish community has clout in the media, in the U.S. and elsewhere.”
Needless to say, Musharraf views all this “Jewish influence” as most unfortunate and negative, but, as even Ha’aretz notes, “when asked what Pakistan has to gain by getting closer to Israel, the very thing that most irks Musharraf – i.e., the perceived Jewish influence in the U.S. and elsewhere – is what he points out as a potential prize.”
That doesn’t seem to be a vindication of the view of Israel’s “tough-love” friends that peace is best served by a lot of “daylight” between the US and Israel…
To make matters worse for Israel’s “tough-love” friends, the Ha’aretz interview validates Lee Smith’s thesis that in the Middle East, a “strong horse” will command respect and admiration. As it turns out, Musharraf is “an Ariel Sharon fan”:
“I used to read novels. But now, mostly just military history. I enjoy that. I like reading about Napoleonic campaigns. And I have read about all the Israeli-Arab wars and that is how I know about Ariel Sharon,” he says. “I know how he contributed toward the victories of the Israelis. In every war it was his contribution that counted. Every time this man contributed. He is a great military leader … My admiration comes from a place of realistic assessment of his military exploits, which were very impressive. I think he was a great military commander and I appreciate that.”
However, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Musharraf unsurprisingly asserts that “[right] from the beginning, from when we got our independence in ‘47 and Israel came into reality a year later, we have been pro-Palestine.”
Indeed, Pakistan’s longstanding hostility to Israel is well known. In 1947, the just established Muslim state fiercely opposed the UN Partition Plan for Palestine, and subsequently, Pakistan made efforts to support the first Arab war against the fledgling Jewish state. In 1949, Pakistan was the only country to join Britain in recognizing the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Jordan over the occupied West Bank territory – keep that in mind when you read Musharraf’s repeated claims during the Ha’aretz interview that Pakinstan’s hostility to Israel has always been driven by heartfelt concern for the plight of the Palestinians…
In the 1950s, Pakistan refused to grant Jewish refugees from Afghanistan passage to India. In the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973, Pakistani pilots are said to have manned Jordanian and Syrian planes; later, Pakistan provided military training to the PLO and in the 1982 battle for Beirut between Israel and the PLO, fifty Pakistani volunteers were taken prisoner by Israel.
What is less well known is that the notion that “relations with Israel could help Pakistan” is by no means a new idea. Already in the 1980s, there were supposedly some contacts because Pakistan was interested in enlisting Israel’s help to influence American policy makers to mediate in the Indian-Pakistani nuclear race. In the 1990s, there were again indications that Pakistan was interested in relations with Israel due to a number of factors including the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and China, the normalization of relations with India – which deepened Pakistani concerns about military cooperation between Israel and India – and, according to Moshe Yegar, a retired Israeli Foreign Service official, it was also believed “that Pakistan’s difficult economic situation, shaky relations with the United States (primarily because of its nuclear program), and strong desire to improve its image were driving it toward improving its relations with Israel.”
But even back then, Pakistani officials acknowledged that “the main deterrent to relations with Israel was the fear of a negative reaction by extremist circles within Pakistan.”
While Musharraf would like people to believe that it was all about Palestine, in reality, as Yegar explains, Pakistan’s adopted a more “Islamic” outlook starting in the early 1970s; and according to Yegar, this shift was
caused by Pakistan’s disappointment with the West after being defeated in the 1971 war against India, and primarily by the mounting Islamic sentiments among the Pakistani public and the increase in Arab countries’ power. The strengthening of ties with Muslim countries in general, and with Arab countries in particular, stemmed from the following factors: 1. The need to garner support in the conflict with India; 2. The desire to promote economic interests, such as importing cheap oil, ensuring a flow of income from Pakistani workers employed in Arab countries (in 1983 this came to about $3 billion), developing markets for Pakistani products, and receiving loans and grants; 3. The need to obtain international political support in the face of the Soviet threat during the war with Afghanistan; 4. The desire to exhibit international Islamic solidarity to internal religious circles; 5. The need to prevent Iranian subversion in Pakistan.
But of course, Musharraf tells Ha’aretz:
I personally think the Palestinian dispute is at the foundation of many of our bigger problems. Look at terrorism and extremism, 9/11, Al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Hamas – all these are products of the unsettled Palestinian dispute. Because of the misery these Palestinians are suffering, which is seen all over the world on TV, there is a reaction.
For some reason, the Taliban (and Pakistan’s support for them) didn’t make Musharraf’s list; and for some reason, he doesn’t seem to think Kashmir (and Pakistan’s support for militants there) is much of an issue; and of course, there wouldn’t be any reason (it’s not on TV, after all!) to mention the plight of Pakistan’s Baloch people – who would likely envy the Palestinians in view of a 2009 report that points out: “88% of the population of Balochistan is under the poverty line. Balochistan has the lowest literacy rate, the lowest school enrolment ratio, educational attainment index and health index compared to the other [Pakistani] provinces. 78% of the population has no access to electricity and 79% has no access to natural gas.”
Interestingly, according to Peter Tatchell, a campaigner for Baloch rights, Pakistan’s “cultural conquest of Balochistan also involves the radical Islamification of the traditionally more secular Baloch nation. Large numbers of religious schools have been funded by Islamabad, with a view to imposing Pakistan’s harsher, more narrow-minded interpretation of Islam. This is fuelling fundamentalism.” Tatchell has also argued that “Pakistan’s war against Balochistan is strengthening the position of the Taliban, who have exploited the unstable, strife-ridden situation to establish bases and influence in the region. From these bases, the Taliban terrorise the mostly more liberal, secular Baloch people and enforce the Talibanisation of Balochistan.”
Well, it will sort itself out in no time once the Palestinian issue is solved … Or maybe not? Apparently, at least Israel shouldn’t expect too much from peace. As Musharraf tells Ha’aretz:
Israel […] should not expect everything to be “hunky-dory, with no attacks and no bullet fire. You will never get that. This guerrilla warfare will continue, and then settle down gradually. But you can not expect there to be no Hamas and no Hezbollah and no rockets at all.”
So, according to Musharraf, “terrorism and extremism, 9/11, Al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Hamas – all these are products of the unsettled Palestinian dispute,” but even if this “dispute” is settled, Hamas and Hezbollah will continue to attack Israel.
On this last part, I’m afraid Musharraf is absolutely right — and all the other Islamist terrorists he didn’t mention will likewise continue with what is for them business as usual. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be the world’s most talked-about conflict, but when a former (and perhaps future) Pakistani president claims that it is the main cause of “terrorism and extremism”, he only illustrates that there is a lot of empty talk about this issue.