Normalization between Israel and Pakistan Remains Far Off

December 9, 2020 | Varsha Koduvayur and Akhil Bery
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Since the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain broke the longstanding taboo on relations between Muslim countries and the Jewish state, there has been ample speculation as to which country will be next to follow suit. Although Islamabad and Jerusalem have engaged in covert cooperation and intelligence sharing since the 1970s, don’t expect Pakistan to take things out into the open any time soon, argue Varsha Koduvayur and Akhil Bery:

What stands in the way of normalization is Islamabad’s long record of equating the Palestinian struggle for self-determination to [local Muslims’] struggle in Indian-controlled parts of Kashmir. To normalize ties with Israel before resolving the Palestinian issue would rob Pakistan of the justifications it has used to bolster its claims over Kashmir. Earlier this month, the Pakistani president Imran Khan said that serious consideration of bilateral ties with Israel would have to wait for “a just settlement, which satisfies Palestinians.”

The pervasive feeling in Islamabad is that the Gulf countries have abandoned their traditional support for pan-Islamic causes, like Kashmir and the Palestinians, leaving Pakistan to take up the mantle of championing Muslim voices—a role Islamabad is happy to play.

[Moreover], the political costs of normalization are quite high for Islamabad. Khan would face the opprobrium of a considerable portion of the public, including his own supporters—thereby delivering a major blow to his reputation. There could also be violent protests and other reactions from Islamist hardliners that would have the potential to metastasize into major security threats. After all, street protests against Israel are not uncommon: thousands protested the UAE’s deal with Israel. . . . The Pakistani military, which would have to sign off on a formal recognition of Israel, would have much to lose from the heightened security risks that a public backlash would engender.

A third obstacle in the way of Islamabad-Jerusalem ties is Pakistan’s relationship with Iran, which appears to be intensifying despite earnest efforts by the Gulf Arab states to peel Pakistan away.

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