InternationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 03

Foreign policy adjustments needed

After a landmark Israel-United Arab Emirates (UAE) normalization of relations deal of August 13, the start of intra-Afghan dialogue, Pakistan’s isolation or ditching by its allies on the question of atrocities of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Kashmiris and economic meltdown, the federal government of Prime Minister Imran Khan must make critical adjustments to the country’s foreign policy to protect national and public interests.

The intimidation of Pakistan in the international arena could be gauged from the fact that Pakistan has assumed a circumspect stance over the Israel-UAE deal while it has not made a very strong reaction to Indian demands to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to drop the Kashmir issue from its agenda.

Pakistan’s cautious response to the Israel-UAE accord could be gauged from the country’s Foreign Office spokesman statement. The spokesman said, “We have noted the joint statement announcing the agreement of the UAE and Israel to have full normalisation of relations. For just, comprehensive and lasting peace, Pakistan has consistently supported a two-state solution in accordance with the relevant UN and OIC resolutions as well as international law.” The statement clearly desisted from criticizing the agreement, the UAE or even Israel. It also emphasized on the two-state solution, suggesting that the official stance is not reflective of the Pakistani Islamist sentiment of putting an end to Israel. There has been no other statement from Pakistan official spokespersons. However, during a short visit of Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa to Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Imran Khan came out in the open belatedly to say that Pakistan would never recognize Israel unless the statehood of Palestine is ensured.

Pakistan’s thinking political circles and diplomatic officials generally believe that the situation that has emerged after the August 13 normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE has put Islamabad in a very difficult situation. Because most likely, other Arab-Muslim countries would follow Abu Dhabi and India has come out in complete support of the normalization of relations. It is generally believed that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other important Arab countries have already left Pakistan alone on the Kashmir issue, where India imposed a blanket curfew in August 2019, and virtually annexed the only Muslim majority state by amending Article 370 and Article 35-A of its constitution under which Kashmir had a special status in Indian Union. Some critics claim Riyadh has already snubbed Pakistan for criticizing it for not supporting Kashmiris and asked it to pay back one billion dollar loan immediately and it has also threatened to stop providing cash-strapped Pakistan oil on deferred payment. If Pakistan openly opposes the UAE for normalizing its relations with Israel, it would definitely annoy not only Abu Dhabi but also the architect of the arrangement, Muhammad bin Salman-led Saudi Arabia, they claim. Already, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have billions of dollars’ worth of business deals with India and they could not afford to support Pakistan or Kashmir. Pakistan, on the other hand, is highly indebted to Saudi Arabia and the UAE financially and if it criticizes the normalization of relations of the UAE, and possibly by Riyadh, with Tel Aviv and works to make another anti-Israeli or Jewish Muslim countries block together with Iran, Turkey, Malaysia and non-Arab countries, it would have to face a severe economic crisis. By keeping silence on the UAE-Israel deal, it would give up its traditional leadership role of the Islamic world. So, Pakistan would have to walk a very tightrope and in this regard one suggests its actions in the foreign policy arena to be rational rather than emotional.

Pakistan’s foreign policy, whether on China, India, Afghanistan, the United States or even Saudi Arabia, has been dominated by rationality but on the Israel-Palestine conflict it has been totally emotional. Otherwise, if it is a Muslim or Islamic question, Pakistan or even any Islamist party of Pakistan has never raised a voice against gross human rights violation of millions of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, China, purely on the basis of national interest.

The emerging global and regional situation has also thrown important opportunities for Pakistan. If the situation is managed adroitly by the US, then Pakistan could be forced to make the much–needed rectification in its foreign policy by giving up its anti-Israeli stance, if not having normal diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv as it would be quite beneficial for Islamabad in the prevailing situation. However, much would depend upon Israel and how it would like to look at Pakistan. Whether by having good relations (however concealed) with Pakistan, Israel could prevent Pakistan from aggressively supporting the Arab states militarily, particularly at a time when there is much anger within Pakistani policy circles about some key Arab allies’ policies on Pakistan, India and Palestine. On its part, Israel would like to have normal relations with Pakistan to keep it away from supporting Arab countries and even Iran militarily and excellent relations with India, so that it can take advantage of the immense consumer market of India as well as a big market for Israeli defence equipment. However, by having extensive defence cooperation with India, Tel Aviv would be unable to win over the tacit support of Pakistan.

Pakistani strategists must take into consideration the interest of its workers in the UAE and Gulf countries. A large number of Pakistani workers have jobs in the UAE while sizable Pakistanis have their big and small concerns in the Emirates. They cannot back Pakistan’s obstinate stance on the Israel-UAE deal, fearing a harsh reaction from the UAE government. It would be a big influence on Pakistan’s foreign policy and diplomacy on the Israel-UAE normalization of relations.

A debate is also going on within the Pakistan policy circles that if other Arab-Gulf countries follow suit and establish diplomatic relations with Israel, it would be very difficult for Islamabad to stick to its traditional stance of not recognizing the Jewish state, because it is illogical that if the regional Arab-Muslim countries recognize Israel, then why Pakistan should continue to have no diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv. Secondly, the pressure from traditional but now estranged allies would be irresistible for Islamabad to take a policy line on Israel that is different from the Arab kingdoms and sheikhdoms. Thirdly, by having normal relations with Israel, Pakistan could prevent Tel Aviv from going further close to India, the archrival of Islamabad. Because the basic problem of Israel is with Arab or Muslim countries and Tel Aviv has been desirous of having more and more Muslim countries to its side on the Palestinian issue. In this regard, Pakistan seems to be arguably the most important non-Arab Muslim, rather the most significant Muslim state. The reason is that Pakistan is the only nuclear power among Muslim countries. Pakistan has to exploit the situation on the basis of its importance and potential.