by M. Shahid Alam
September 4, 2003
In June 2003, Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s self-appointed President and strongman, was summoned to Washington. He returned with two errands from President George Bush. Pakistan must recognize Israel and dispatch its troops to police America’s illegal occupation of Iraq. There was money in it for Pakistani rulers: three billion dollars over the next five years.
Still in Washington, Musharraf told Pakistani reporters that he had made no “deal” with the United States. “Whatever we are doing, we are doing in our national interest, and fortunately our national interest coincides with those of the United States, which is the beauty of our relationship.” At the least, one must thank the strongman for his frankness. Here is his public confession that his government, unreservedly, accepts the new American contract in the Islamic world. Pakistan is fighting – and will fight – America’s war against terrorism, which many Muslims see as a cover for America’s emasculation of Islamic societies.
Is there “beauty” in this relationship? It is a relationship that was cemented within minutes of Colin Powell’s call to the strongman on the night of September 11. Instantly, Pakistan offered not only its airspace to American warplanes and missiles; it invited Americans to launch their invasion of Afghanistan from half a dozen bases within Pakistan. Soon, American operatives were stationed in Pakistani cities and making arrests on Pakistani territory. It would be difficult to come up with another example of a country which surrendered its sovereignty more precipitously. And the strongman sees “beauty” in this surrender.
Now the strongman has a new charge from America’s Likudniks. “Recognize the state of Israel,” they demand. This Israeli state had its origin in a brilliant conspiracy that leveraged the power of the very peoples who hated the Jews. The Zionists made a compact with their ancient tormentors: We will rid you of your Jews if you help us to establish a Jewish colonial-settler state in Palestine. In addition, the Jewish state could serve as imperialist Europe’s outpost in the Arab world. Western anti-Semites found the offer irresistible. Britain first signed the compact in 1917, but when it wavered, the United States stepped in to establish Israel, and since the mid-1960s it has been its chief protagonist, softening the Islamic world for Israeli hegemony with wars and bribes.
In order to establish a lasting hegemony, Israel demand unconditional recognition from its Arab neighbors. The first break-through came in 1978 when Egypt recognized Israel in return for an annual US payment of two billion dollars. The second break-through came in 1993, after the end of the Cold War, when Arafat and his aging cronies bartered the Palestinian’s historic claims to 78 percent of historic Palestine1 for the right to police Occupied West Bank and Gaza. Most Arab states would have happily followed suit – and a few did -- but for the growing Islamist opposition at home.
The American pressure on the Pakistani junta to recognize Israel could not have come at a worse time. There are precious few in the Islamic world who believe any of the lies used to justify America’s illegal invasion of Iraq; they are convinced that this was the action of a Likudnik American administration acting at the behest of Israel. The grand deception of a “peace process,” inaugurated by the Oslo Accords in 1993, is now in complete tatters. Israel continues to strengthen the foundations of an apartheid state, completing the separation of “unequal races” with a wall that reaches twenty feet high. Under the circumstances, the US pressure can only be seen as more evidence of the Israeli tail wagging the American dog. The United States is pressing an Israeli demand on the Pakistani junta.
Incredibly, the Pakistani strongman has the chutzpah to argue the case for recognition. “In my view … if the Palestinians themselves undertake discussions and go for friendship with Israel … then what’s the problem with us? What is our enmity with Israel?” Is the strongman willing to wait until the Palestinians have made their peace with Israel; until they have their own sovereign state on a mere 22 percent of historic Palestine; until the four million Palestinian refugees – ethnically cleansed in 1948 and 1967 – can return to their homes inside Israel? It is clear that the strongman is in no mood to wait for these results, or that he has any interest in helping to advance these results. He must do the bidding of Washington: and he wants to do it now.
The General asks: “What is our enmity with Israel?” Has he forgotten that Pakistan is the only Muslim country to possess nuclear weapons, and although these weapons are pointed at India, Israel cannot regard Pakistan’s nuclear asset with equanimity, with or without Pakistani recognition of Israel? As the military chief, Musharraf should know that the Pakistan military expects and prepares against a pre-emptive strike on its nuclear facilities from India as well as Israel, or a coordinated strike by both. India and Israel form a natural axis against Pakistan: and that is a hard geopolitical reality that will scarcely be altered by recognition.
Several commentators in Pakistan – with a naïveté that must be rare for self-proclaimed realists – have offered a list of advantages which recognition will bring to Pakistan. The list includes reduced risk of a strike against Pakistan’s nuclear assets, access to Israel’s military technology, and throwing a spanner in Israel’s growing special relationship with India. These realists forget that recognition is a one-time act, and once accomplished it carries little or no leverage. What did the Palestinians get from their recognition of Israel?
On the other hand, let the realists be warned of some real liabilities that are likely to flow from recognition. Nearly all Pakistanis will see this as another treasonous sell-out, a costly concession extracted from their spineless rulers in exchange for loans that will only deepen Pakistan’s foreign debt; and, this can only strengthen the Islamist cause that the United States wants to keep at bay. Normal relations with Israel will improve Israel’s intelligence gathering in Pakistan, making Pakistan’s nuclear assets even more vulnerable to an Israeli or Indian strike. We should not discount the disquiet this will cause to our Iranian neighbor; this may push them even closer to India. Finally, the realists – who can scarcely afford to ignore the probability of some real events – should ask if the recognition will be allowed to stand, even if the Islamists never manage to take power in Pakistan. Can Pakistan guarantee that the Israeli embassy and consulates in Pakistan will not become the target of violent attacks from Islamic extremists?
There is a reasonable chance, then, that this American move may backfire. It could backfire because it ignores – like nearly all the elements of American policy towards the Muslim countries – the force of Newtonian dynamics. Just because every action does not have an instant reaction in the world of social and political dynamics, short-sighted US policy makers rarely work through the long-term implications of their policy. If they do, they are convinced they have the cluster bombs to handle any adverse consequences. For fifty years, American policy has been building the grass-root forces in the Islamic world that have now begun to challenge American hegemony in their societies. It is tragic that as these forces become visible, the United States responds with more of the same. Perhaps, this is the only logic that makes sense to an imperialist elite, which has come to believe in the invincible power of cluster bombs and daisy cutters.
If Pakistan’s rulers had attended to their country’s national interest – and did not imagine that these interests were best served by doing America’s bidding – they would have responded to US pressures by stating firmly that Pakistan and Pakistanis do recognize Israel – and they always have recognized Israel – for what it is.
Pakistanis recognize that Israel is a colonial-settler state; they recognize that this racist state was – and is – founded on terror and violence; they recognize that Israel was founded on the ruined foundations of a living Palestinian society; they recognize that Israel created a Jewish majority by ethnically cleansing more than a million Palestinians in 1948 and 1967; they recognize that Israel has a massive arsenal of nuclear weapons aimed at Islamic capitals; they recognize that Israel has armed and supported the most reactionary regimes since its creation, including apartheid South Africa and Idi Amin’s Uganda; they recognize that Israel seeks to deepen its hegemonic dominance over the Arabs with American men, money and arms.
And yet, even today, I expect and hope that most Pakistanis would be glad to extend recognition to a country (by whatever name) – between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean – if it could grant equal rights to all its peoples, Jewish and Arab alike, and grant Palestinian refugees the right of return to return to their homes. But a colonialist, racist, and hegemonic Israel is another matter. And, if Zengi, Nur al-Din, Salahuddin and the Egyptian Mamluks refused to recognize the Crusader states, can Muslims today be expected to choose differently?
M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University. His last book, Poverty from the Wealth of Nations, was published by Palgrave in 2000. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his webpage at http://msalam.net. © M. Shahid Alam