23:22 GMT29 November 2020
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    While the common threat of a "nuclear Iran" and the need for Israeli weapons has compelled some Muslim countries to change their attitude towards Israel, some nations are reluctant to rethink their hostile positions. One such country is Pakistan.

    Speaking at an event set up by the Asian Society in New York City last October, Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan stated that his country will stick to its position of not recognising Israel, rejecting earlier reports that Pakistan was moving in that direction.

    But things could have been different. Created in the aftermath of World War II, the two countries have a lot of things in common. Firstly, both were carved from British-controlled territory for the establishment of religious states: Muslim Pakistan split from India and Jewish Israel split from Trans-Jordan. Israel was supposed to provide an answer to Jews seeking refugee from the atrocities of Nazi Germany, whereas Pakistan was meant to house India's Muslim population, who wanted to depart following independence from the UK due to feelings of persecution.

    Secondly, both countries have witnessed major wars with their neighbours and endless terrorism activity. And, lastly, both have had to absorb millions of immigrants coming from abroad.

    The fact that the two states cooperated back in the 80s, sharing intelligence with each other in an attempt to curb the spread of the "Soviet threat," could have pushed the two nations into each other's arms. But Pakistan had a different idea about how to arrange its relations with Israel , and took an aggressive approach towards Tel Aviv. 

    Palestinians at the Core of Dispute

    The reason for this is the Jewish state's dispute with the Palestinians, says Kaswar Klasra, an Islamabad-based senior journalist and analyst.

    "Pakistan continues to see the issue of Palestine through the prism of the Arab world. It attaches great importance to the Palestinian [cause] and believes Israel has encroached upon their land, leaving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians homeless."

    It was this support for the Palestinians that caused Pakistan to participate in a number of Arab-Israeli wars. In 1948, for example, during the war of independence, Pakistan reportedly purchased some 250 thousand rifles from Czechoslovakia that were meant for the Arabs. It also became known that the Pakistani government bought three military jets in Italy for the Egyptians. 

    Later on, in the 1967 and 1973 wars, the Pakistani air force sent some of its best pilots to the Middle East and managed to down a number of Israeli jets, whereas in 1982 -- during the First Lebanon War - Pakistani volunteers fought in the ranks of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation alongside Palestinians.

    Fearing Public Opinion

    However, the Palestinian issue and the solidarity with the Arab world are far from being the only reason for Pakistan's reluctance to recognise Israel. 

    According to the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, Pakistan, which has been dealing with an acute extremism problem for years, is concerned about the surge in radical activity that could erupt if the Islamic country's government changes its stance towards the Jewish state.

    The public opinion presents a problem too. In 2006, a survey conducted by Pew Research Center found that some 60 percent of Pakistanis held unfavourable views on Israel. Only 6 percent of those asked sympathised with the Jewish state.

    Attitudes haven't improved since then. In late January, when US President Donald Trump rolled out his 'deal of the century' peace plan that aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Pakistanis took to the streets to protest the move, chanting anti-Israel and anti-American slogans.

    There's Still a Chance for A Better Future

    However, despite all of these factors, Klasra believes "the two sides still have bright chances to be good friends". 

    Being close to the Gulf states and specifically to Saudi Arabia, which in 2019 pledged Pakistan some $20 billion in deals, Islamabad is aware of the changes in attitudes towards Israel these countries have undergone, and it seems that some parts of the Pakistani public don't want to lag behind.

    "The well-educated class in Pakistan is supportive of establishing diplomatic relationship with Israel," said Klasra. 

    Indeed, in recent years Israeli media outlets have published a number of articles by Pakistani journalists, activists and bloggers who have called for the establishment of formal ties.

    Even Pakistan’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who is currently living in self-exile in Dubai, has openly said that Pakistan should reconsider its stance towards the Jewish state.

    Although Musharraf himself has been a strong critic of Israel, he changed direction in 2004, paving the way for a bilateral meeting of Israeli and Pakistani foreign ministers in 2005.

    The fact that other Muslim countries that previously had been hostile to Israel thawed the ice with Tel Aviv, including Chad and Sudan, has also contributed to the feeling among Pakistan's educated circles that Islamabad too could juggle between its commitment to the Palestinian cause and the pursuit of the country's national interests. 

    Tackling a decades long conflict with India over the contested area of Kashmir, Pakistan eyes with concern the growing military ties between its eastern neighbour and Israel, which has been one of New Delhi's main suppliers of arms. 

    Although voices that have been calling on the Pakistani government to get closer to Israel remain a minority, Klasra is certain that it is only a matter of time until that situation changes. But for the change to happen, Israel and Pakistan will need more people-to-people contact, and most importantly, time.

    "[What we need to see is] frequent meetings of moderate and well-educated Pakistanis and Israelis including officials from think-tanks, journalists, military and academics. This can certainly do the trick".

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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