Israel and Pakistan – A Report

Google is great; it’s amazing what you can find while looking through your referral logs. I have gotten quite a few visits who were searching for Israel and Pakistan. My post about Pakistani recognition of Israel is #5 on Google. While looking through the search results, I noticed a report Beyond the Veil: Israel-Pakistan Relations by P.R. Kumaraswamy which was published by the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. It was published in March 2000 before the Al-Aqsa intifada.

Israel has been more interested in normalization than Pakistan. Even though Pakistan is not a “vital” area for Israel, one cannot underestimate its importance in the Islamic world. Since 1948, Israel has been eager to intensify and upgrade contacts and dialogues, but the nature, depth and content of such contacts were determined by the reluctant other: Pakistan. The latter has been reacting and responding to Israeli overtures. While Israel might take the initiative, the outcomes rest on Pakistan.

Kumaraswamy starts out by discussing some similarities between Israel and Pakistan.

Notwithstanding these differences, however, both states share a certain common historical legacy and the contours of state-building. They both suffer from internal strife and divisions. As states created with the explicit purpose of safeguarding the political rights of religious minorities, the Zionist and Pakistani struggles for independence reflect some similar political traits and approaches. Some of the problems they faced in nation-building were also similar.

In both cases, the question of nationhood was strongly influenced by religion; yet those who led the struggle were anything but religious. Neither Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the architect of Pakistan, nor David Ben-Gurion visualized the creation of theocratic entities.

[…]These are not the only similarities between Israel and Pakistan. Since their establishment, both countries have been haunted by an existential threat and have struggled for acceptance by their regional neighbor/s. It is no coincidence that the security establishment plays a pivotal rule in both countries; in one case as an effective vehicle for national unity and cohesion and in another as the ultimate arbitrator in the national power struggle. While the degree of external threat differs, both countries had genuine fears about their acceptance by the majority from which they broke away.

[…]Unlike their rivals (India and the Arab countries respectively) they pursued a realistic foreign policy devoid of idealism and rhetoric. At the time of their independence, both tried to pursue a non-aligned foreign policy that sought friendly relations with the rival blocs of the Cold War. A host of regional developments curtailed their options, however. Very soon, both were firmly entrenched in the Western camp and emerged as principal allies, and at times proxies, of Washington in the region.

Here are his conclusions on normalization of relations between the two countries:

The absence of formal diplomatic relations has not inhibited Israel and Pakistan from maintaining regular contacts, dialogues and meetings. On numerous occasions, they have adopted identical positions on important developments in the Middle East. Furthermore, they have worked out limited understandings on sensitive security issues, including the nuclear question. Although Pakistan has been reluctant to agree to the persistent Israeli suggestions that full and formal relations be established, normalization is no longer a taboo subject and has been widely discussed by the Pakistani media. The question is when and not if. A comprehensive Middle East settlement, especially with the Palestinians, would significantly modify Pakistan?s position. Nevertheless, ideological and Islamic considerations might prevent Pakistan from agreeing to full normalization.

Whenever Pakistan recognizes and establishes relations with Israel, it will not be the first Islamic country to do so. Since it has no direct disputes with Israel, Pakistan is not under any compulsion to seek a “cold peace” with Israel, and therefore has several options to choose from.

  • The Turkish model: Pakistan can recognize Israel without establishing diplomatic relations immediately.
  • The Iranian model: It can follow the precedent set by the Shah of Iran and recognize the Jewish state, but maintain its relationship under wraps.
  • The Jordanian model: It can imitate the Jordanians and maintain close political as well as military relations with the Jewish state without granting any official recognition.
  • The Chinese model: It can adopt the Chinese example and view military contacts as a means of promoting political relations.

At least in the foreseeable future, the political status of the relationship is likely to be tentative. While maintaining and even intensifying political contacts in private, both Israel and Pakistan will probably be extremely reluctant to discuss the nature and intensity of their contacts and relationship in public.

In my opinion, Pakistan would like to go the Chinese model route, but Israel is not willing especially since it has good relations with India now. That is why Israel is dangling the prospect of neutrality in India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir if Pakistan proceeds towards establishing relations.

Next: Some details of the history of Pakistani involvement in the Arab-Israeli dispute and contacts between Israel and Pakistan.

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. kumaraswamy’s comparison of israel and pakistan seems really forced to me, don’t you think. by those standards you could juxtapose just about any two countries and say ‘hey look these two guys are essentially the same, the differences are only cosmetic…’
    do you agree with his parallels?

  2. Actually, I agree with his parallels. He also does point out major differences, though not to the extent of the similarities because of the focus of his paper. I did not excerpt those because of lack of space.

    I do think that the similarities are not huge and not that important for establishing relations between them.

  3. Interesting stuff. I wouldn’t have thought Israel would get anything out of military contact with Pakistan, and I certainly wouldn’t think they’d trust pakistan enough to want to share any military knowledge, not for a long while…

  4. Ryan: The tentacles of military connections stretch pretty far and wide. Pakistan is far enough away from the Arab-Israeli conflict that it is possible for Israel and Pakistan to have some military cooperation. In fact, there might have been indirect sharing through e.g. South Africa in the past. Direct and overt military cooperation however is not possible at this time IMO.

  5. On the other hand, Israel IS engaging in direct and overt military co-operation with India, so why the hell would they do the same with India’s current enemy?

  6. pakistan will benefit much more than israel. israel won the intifada and is close to both america and india.
    sooner or later it will happen

  7. This report is a bit old (March 2000). Also, remember that until the 1980s India was actually much closer to Israel’s old enemies (like Nasser’s Egypt in the 50s-60s) than Pakistan. At this time, I agree that military cooperation between Pakistan and Israel will be hampered somewhat because of India-Israel cooperation. However, Israel’s EU ambassador recently basically dangled the prospect of neutrality between India and Pakistan as a benefit of recognition by Pakistan.

    I also think that Pakistan will probably benefit more, especially militarily, in case relations are established.

    I think Israel is willing to go some extra distance if Pakistan recognizes it ahead of a settlement with the Palestininians. Once a peace agreement has been made, the incentives just go away since supposedly everyone would recognize Israel then.

  8. India has followed continuity with the rest of those states not directly embroiled in the IP conflict. Diplomatic relations et al followed Oslo and would not have really occurred otherwise. Nevertheless there is a shift towards Israel as an adjustment process; now with a saffronist-dominated government, many ideologues and hyperactive nationalists see some sort of Zionist-Hindutva alliance with American patronage as a bulwark against the threat of Islamist opponents (read Pakistan). This feeds into domestic politics as well, as one of the frequent complaints of saffronists and conservative Hindus is that the non-recognition of Israel was another policy of ‘pampering the Muslim minority’ as part of Nehruvian secularism. Garbage, but peddled about nonetheless.

    Israel will play a smart game if it can play off India and Pakistan; it has little need to be closely allied with either; I would think, though that there may be domestic repercussions for any Pakistani govt that did recognise Israel, particularly if the MMA and other religious formations become a permanent fixture in representative politics.

  9. Conrad: It seems to be that the saffronists in India and Islamist-nationalists in Pakistan have very similar ideas.

    At this point in time, it would be difficult for a Pakistani government to recognize Israel as the religious parties are powerful and menacing. However, things can change or they can be placated otherwise, kind of like Nawaz Sharif did with the Sunday holiday.

  10. On September 9, Israel will going to India for military development that makes our country greatly worried. It is going to be late for Pakistan government to recognize Israel. As we know that Israel is a smart player. Pakistan’greatest goals is to have Anti-missiles system, which India already have and importantly F-16, which US refused to deliver.

    India, coward country, is going to make last laugh for making strong cooperation with Israel. Secretly we maybe heard that US agreed to deliver F-16s to India after refusing to Pakistan. What the hell is going on?


  11. I have read on a number of occasions that the religion was the basis for creation of Israel and Pakistan. That is true. However, no body has ever pointed out that Pakistan was carved out of India and consisted of the population which is there for thousands of years. However, Israel came into existence by deviding Palestine and its population in majority consisted of the people migrated from Europe in recent history. These people came to Palestine when the Jewish Leaders decided that they want to have their own land and they instructed their followers to go to Palestine.

  12. I have read on a number of occasions that the religion was the basis for creation of Israel and Pakistan. That is true. However, no body has ever pointed out that Pakistan was carved out of India and consisted of the population which is there for thousands of years. However, Israel came into existence by deviding Palestine and its population in majority consisted of the people migrated from Europe in recent history. These people came to Palestine when the Jewish Leaders decided that they want to have their own land and they instructed their followers to go to Palestine.

  13. Salman: Tone it down a bit. No need to call India a coward country. It isn’t in any way. And Israel would obviously do business with someone who recognizes it. So Pakistan is definitely out until it does something about that. I believe Israel does not want to get into our local fights, so it would take a somewhat neutral stand if Pakistan established relations.

    Mohammed: True to an extent. But Jews have lived in Israel/Palestine area for thousands of years and have historical ties there. It is however true that a majority in 1947 was of immigrants from Europe. They weren’t exactly recent immigrants with no ties to Palestine/Israel. And I don’t think it matters much in any case.

  14. It is impractical not to recognize Israel. Anyway it is there, and the economic-military gap between Israel and the Arab world has never been wider. From the very beginning Pakistan treated British-Palestine as an Arab-Muslin land, so it could not legitimize Israel, but it was based on sentiments rather than facts.
    The idea that the Jews are invaders and Palestinians are the authentic dwellers of the region is wrong. Both Israel and Palestine, as well as Iraq or Jordan, are a product of the British rule. Jews did not have self rule for almost 2000 years while Palestine as an Arab entity has never ever existed. Both sides evolved their national identity through opposition to British colonialism, it is clear that Jews won the 1948 war not because of any moral superiority, but because their national identity was more solid than that of Arabs who really had a loose idea what they were fighting for. Mostly, Arabs perceived themselves as Palestinians only after the 1948 defeat, and the hostile welcome to Palestinian refugees in all Arab states bar Jordan.
    Pakistan was usually practical in its foreign policy choices, true to this tradition, it should follow India who understood back in 1992 who are the winner and losers in West Asia. Pakistan could use the first Oslo Accord 10 years ago to recognize Israel, had it done it back than, we would not have witnessed such a huge military gap with India today.

  15. As a New Yorker, where I interact daily with hundreds of Pakistani and Indian folk…. I can only say that as we have all learned here – the world is one large brotherhood.

    Until such time that Pakistan can truly open its arms to a democracy, like Israel, it is destined to make slow progress towards moving away from outdated modes of hatred and prejudice.

    May that future era of harmony soon be here.

  16. Mark: Thanks for your comment. Democracy I think is necessary, but not sufficient. Still it is better than alternative forms of government.

  17. what i cant figure out is the simple q: is it politically possible for pak’s leader to establish diplomatic relations with israel? won’t the left and islamist forces scold him for such a move? won’t he lose his power if he does do such a drastic move? who exactly openly suppotrs contacts inside pak?

  18. what i cant figure out is the simple q: is it politically possible for pak’s leader to establish diplomatic relations with israel? won’t the left and islamist forces scold him for such a move? won’t he lose his power if he does do such a drastic move? who exactly openly suppotrs contacts with israel inside pak?

  19. gal: At the present time, it’s probably not possible for Musharraf to recognize Israel since he’s locked in other conflicts with the political opposition, most of which centers on him and laws he promulgated during his martial law. If however the situation changes, I expect the religious parties to object but the constituencies for recognition would be the miliary and if Musharraf is canny the businessmen. It could be similar to what happened for the sunday weekly holiday which was changed from friday by Nawaz Sharif who had the support of businesses.

    I don’t think anyone is actually openly supporting recognition of Israel right now. Most of this is happening behind the scenes.

    In my previous post, I mentioned a poll which is significant despite some major problems with it. I think the non-Islamist elite is ready to take steps to recognize Israel. They do need some domestic and international cover. It probably won’t happen after a suicide bombing or Israeli incursion or takeover of some West Bank/Gaza town.

  20. Thank you,
    This was a good answer, at least I will not have illusion that on my next visit to india, I will be allowed to enter Pakistan. I envy the tourists from “normal” places who can visit the subcontinent properly, pak, bangla and ind.
    Are you pakistani? what is your full name?
    What do you do when you are offline?

  21. I was a kid when we lived in Libya. We left before the bombing and the sanctions, so we missed the really bad part. When we went there, it was a normal country, but during our stay, Qaddafi nationalized everything. So the economy and life suffered. Still it wasn’t too bad. We lived really close to the beach (walking distance) and that was fun.

  22. now that sharon has visited india, there were many article on indo-israeli relations.
    pakistani PM said according to DAWN that these relations are not of worry for him. does he speak the truth?
    one more, why DAWN is so against recognition of israel, all their articles oppose it. are there more rational newspapers in pakistan?

  23. john: I would think that the Pakistani government would definitely be woried about the military aspect of Indo-Israel relations as this might start another arms race in the region. Bad for the region and especially for Pakistan.

    I recall reading articles in Dawn on both sides of the recognition issue. Dawn is generally considered to be the best Pakistani English newspaper with a generally liberal outlook. Another newspaper that probably has higher circulation numbers is The News

  24. zack: the catch that i see is that even if pakistan recognizes israel, does it have enough money to buy baraks, arrows, phalcons and so on?
    does not pakistan in a lose situation anyway?

  25. john: Well, the economy is another issue altogether. Pakistan has generally spent more as a share of GDP than India on defense. My guess is the miltary aspect is what is in the minds of the Pakistan generals. I would however be more interested in general cooperation in trade and technology. I don’t know what would happen though.

  26. zack: in an ideal world normal trade is more important than military one. but in a normal world pakistan would have recognized israel one second after egypt [1979], the leading muslim-arab country in west-asia.
    i am not sure it is worth risking recognizing israel just because there is a just cause to do it, it seems that realpolitik, i.e, improving contacts with the us and preventing a huge tech-military with india are the leading motives to re-think relations with israel.
    the question is can pakistan hold an arm race with india giving its shaky economy, what do you think?

  27. John: I think in international relations both idealism and realpolitik need to be considered and Israeli recognition qualifies on both.

    About the arms race, one can definitely happen at least for the short term. Pakistan is not an economic basket case right now, though an escalated arms race will take it in that direction.

  28. now, that pak’s rules almost lost his life (twice),
    israel is the last and least issue on his mind.

  29. I want to quote some of my points regarding Pakistan and Israel realations.The main cause of tension between Pakistan and Israel is Palestine issue.The ppls of pakistan dont like israel coz it is a Zionist state but the political leaders of Pakistan backed by America want to make good relations with Israel. so according to me view their are some chance of improvement of good relations Pakistan and Israel.

  30. John: That would be my impression as well.

    Nouman: I think there are ways in which at least the Pakistani population, at least a reasonable portion of it, can be brought around to the idea of recognizing Israel. Right now though things are not at all moving in that direction.

  31. israel katz, the israeli cabinet minister has stated that relations are improving.
    what does he know that we dont?

  32. john: Are you talking about the statement by Katz where he said that he was invited to a UN FAO meeting in Islamabad while Pakistan’s Foreign office is now saying that the meeting has been postponed and hence the question of inviting him does not arise.

    According to the Jerusalem Post,

    Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz said Tuesday that he will travel to Pakistan in March, and Maariv reported that senior officials from both countries have met secretly in recent weeks.

    But both Pakistan and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom have said they have no knowledge of Katz’s invitation. “This appointment does not suit us,” the Pakistani Foreign Ministry tersely announced.

    There is also the “incidental” meeting between Musharraf and Shimon Peres at Davos.

    Something is definitely happening. It’s not that there haven’t been contacts between Pakistani and Israeli officials before, but those were much more secret than now. I am not sure though what will come out of it all.

  33. I would like someone to confirm, if Israel in the past has offered India miltary assistance to destroy Pakistan’s nuclear programme. As I have heard this from other other sources! Certainly such history may dictate Pakistan’s stand against Israel.

  34. Krish: I have heard rumors and insinuations but nothing definite. Generally, the sources saying this have not been trustworthy.

  35. Sorry i know this topice is probably history now..but i can never see Pakistan and Israel ever enjoying Sound diplomatic relations.

    It is irrelevant whether one is a practising muslim or not.. but the Quran is quite clear on how ‘Jews’ will decieve and be fought against in the future(approaching Kiyamat).
    And i think that most jewish children are made aware of this…??? i may be wrong.. just an opinion!!

  36. Abdullah: I have no idea what you are talking about. There’s nothing in the Quran about the “future treachery of Jews.” And why would Jewish children be taught about what in your opinion are Muslim beliefs?

  37. Fahd: Like all states, and especially settler states, Israel’s creation had its problems and injustices. But that doesn’t mean that Israel shouldn’t exist today.

    Quran does not say anything about all Jews for eternity.

    Hitler was evil and his genocide of Jews was utterly and completely wrong. You sound like you approve of Hitler’s conduct. If you do, you are an asshole and not at all welcome to my weblog.

  38. pakistan has got two fields of intrest 1) the military coopration 2)ecnomic coopration now for military coopration pakistan is enjoyiing good ties with china and for ecnomic ties pakistan considers arab countries a better partner so israel never has been a center of focus for pakistan so why will pakistan go against its arab friends and give israel any importance when its 2 major intrests r being fulfilled

  39. Fahd and truth: I have removed the vowels from all your comments for defending Nazis and the holocaust. Take your filth elsewhere.

    zeeshan: About military ties, it doesn’t hurt to have cooperation with more than one country.

    Pakistan’s relationship with Arab countries will be affected if it chose to recognize Israel. The question is how much. I think the only major effect will be with Saudi Arabia.

  40. I think Pakistan and Israel would do well to
    forge closer ties. In fact, this should have been
    initiated some years ago. Apart from Saudi Arabia,
    Pakistan has not gained any meaningful support
    from the other Arab countries. The vast majority of
    them actually look down on Pakistanis and have a
    greater preference for Indians. Of course, the
    ultra-right religious groups in Pakistan have to be
    handled with care….so this is something to be worked at.

  41. well after reading all the comments i just want to say that pkistan should accept israel for its national interest……..while making its foreign policy every country put forward its national interest then why not pakistan….it will help to stable its ecnomic condition…..however bout the issue of palestine…….their is a better way of negotiation…i m not a stereotype person thats y consider my opinion as an opnion but not as secular mind girl…..i m proud of being muslim

  42. This Mid East problem could be over in 5 min if the Muslims could read in the Quran about the land of covenant that as per Quran belongs to the Jews.(corollary) I do not remember the Verse no. but it says that when there is a covenant, when the help from God and men arrices, the Jews would win(in a conflict) It actually hints that in this case Muslims would not win in conflict. We must understand that Israel is the land of the covenant (how large I dont know) and that God did help the Jews get Israel in 1948 and that help of men was there in the form of UN Security Council.Thus all 3 Quranic conditions seemed fulfilled in 1948……So Israel has a right to exist. While Mid east is the Muslim promised land (Byzans and Sassan territory) , Israel is the land of the covenant for the Jews so they should recognize each other and live peacefully……Mind you Quran says it would go to Jrws and not the entire set of children of Israel…so correct as Jews are a subset of the ancient children of Israel…The covenant was with the entire set of children of Israel during Moses’s time but at time of Prophet Mohammad (7th Century) only Jrws had been left in that area……….We are also reminded of a Hadith (event) in Prophet’s life when he instructed muslims to do justice to a Jewish person and gave him back his land which a muslim had taken……Its time we settle this issue for ever.

  43. ayaz: I don’t believe in land being granted to religious/ethnic groups based on the Bible, Quran or other holy books.

  44. Leaving the religious standpoint aside, I believe Pakistan should not recognize Israel because of the latter’s genocide and ethnic cleansing of palestinian arabs (including christians). I would be ashamed to shake hands with Sharon and company, whose hands are bloody – remember sbara, shatilla, muhammad al durra??

  45. This is only in reference to an earlier post by “Fahd Sultan” which seems ignorant (seems b/c without the vowels it a little hard to read) and crude. I wish people wouldn’t post with their full names because this posting by “Fahd Sultan” could offend my peers in IT. Anyhow, the crux of this post is that this isn’t me, Fahd Sultan, NY, USA.

  46. Hello Tel Aviv! This is Islamabad

    Pakistan to befriend Israel. Musharraf to befriend the American Jewish community.
    Jews and Israel are the flavour of the month in Pakistan. Silvan Shalom, Israel’s foreign minister shook hands with Khurshid Kasuri, his Pakistani counterpart a…

  47. اسرائیل اور پاکستان

    جوناتھن سے پتہ چلا کہ پاکستان اور اسرائیل کے وزرائے خارجہ نے استنبول میں ملاقات کی ہے۔ یہ کوئی ایسی نئی بات بھی نہیں ہے۔ آج سے دو سال پہلے جنرل مشرف نے اسرائیل کو تسلیم کرنے کا خیال ظاہر……

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