General Musharraf and the Recognition of Israel

It appears that General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s military dictator since October 1999, is on a mission to legitimize Israel: and he is going about it with the zeal of a new convert.

On September 1, 2005, Pakistan’s foreign minister met his Israeli counterpart in Istanbul. This was followed by a meeting between General Musharraf and members of the American Jewish Congress in New York.

Earlier, the General praised war-criminal Ariel Sharon as “a great soldier and courageous leader” for pulling out illegal and often murderous Jewish settlers from the Gaza.[1] Moreover, after the two “courageous leaders” shook hands in New York, the Pakistani General told reporters, “And that’s very good.” [2] Very good? The question is, for whom?

The General wants Pakistanis to believe that recognizing Israel will be good for their country. His minions in the government and media argue that this is a pragmatic, even daring, measure that finally breaks free from the ‘archaic sentimentalism’ about the Ummah ­ a ‘vague concept’ according to one columnist. Is this true? Or is the Pakistani dictator surrendering the national interest in order to perpetuate his own grip on power? This question deserves our sober consideration.

The claim that General Musharraf is acting in Pakistan’s national interest strains credulity. The General has found regime salvation in what the US calls its ‘war against global terrorism.’ Instantly, on the night of September 11, he had seen the opportunity in America’s putative war against terrorism ­ and seized it with both hands. Musharraf’s compact with his American mentors was transparent. The US would support the General, and he would join America’s ‘war against global terrorism.’

This compact has been hugely profitable for the General. And he has never missed an opportunity to peddle its ethereal advantages for Pakistan even as he continues to surrender his nation’s core values and interests. His method is simple. He has redefined Pakistan’s ‘national interest’ to coincide with that of the United States. As he put it in June 2003, during a visit to Washington, “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.”

The General’s gains are clear; but what has Pakistan lost? Pakistan surrendered its territorial sovereignty to the US, handing over Pakistan’s airspace and land bases to be used in a war against a friendly neighbor, Afghanistan. As a result, Pakistan lost the ‘strategic depth’ it had created in Afghanistan ­ though, not with the best means ­ by handing over Afghanistan to its strategic adversaries, the Northern Alliance and India. On its eastern border, Pakistan stopped supporting the resistance in Kashmiri. In 2003, after the American invasion of Iraq, the General tried desperately to send Pakistani troops to police the US occupation of that country, but, thankfully, that move was defeated by Pakistanis.

On the domestic front, the General has been supporting the US ‘war against terrorism’ by promoting a new-fangled ideology of ‘enlightened moderation,’ no doubt a product of neoconservative think tanks in the US. This is an attempt to shift Pakistan away from its core values of Islamic governance, law, morality and justice. The primary targets of this campaign are the madaris (the Islamic schools) and the Ulama, the historical safeguards against Western imperialism and state tyranny in Islamic countries. Now the US wants to destroy them under the pretext that they are ‘breeding grounds of terrorism.’

The move to recognize Israel is merely the latest in the series of capitulations Pakistan has witnessed since September 11, 2001. It is an Israeli demand advanced through the agency of the US government. The General is being asked to give proof positive of his partnership in the ‘war against global terrorism’ by reversing Pakistan’s strategic opposition to the unnatural creation of Israel. Pakistan’s founding father had described Israel as the “illegitimate child of Western imperialism.” Under Israeli-US pressure, the General is determined to turn Pakistan into an instrument for promoting Israeli ambitions in the Islamic world.

Much of Pakistan’s media is now swamped with writers staking putatively ‘nationalist’ positions on the question of recognizing Israel. Suddenly, these writers are beginning to discover endless ­ and vital ­ advantages that will begin to flow to Pakistan once it normalizes relations with Israel. It only remains for these deluded Pakistanis now to celebrate the ancient ties ­ going back to Abraham ­ that have always bound the two fraternal nations. If the Zionists themselves were making Pakistan’s case for recognition, they could not have sounded more specious.

If the narrow nationalism that is being peddled in Pakistan to justify recognizing Israel were genuine ­ if Pakistani nationalism ever had a spine ­ it would remain suspect. It would be suspect because it fails to recognize the deep connections that bind the security and the welfare of Islamic countries. When Islamic governments ignore these connections, and stand individually on their sickly nationalisms, they encourage and facilitate the imperialist attempts of the United States and Israel ­ among others ­ to subjugate these countries, to pick them off one by one.

In this connection one may recall the disastrous experience of the Arabs with their ‘nationalism.’ At the outbreak of the WWI, the Ottomans allied themselves with the Germans in order to neutralize longstanding British and French imperial designs against their state. When the Turkish entry in the war threatened their position in the Arab world, the British sought to incite an Arab rebellion against the Ottomans. The Arab chieftain of Hijaz ­ Sharif Hussein of Makka ­ was picked for this service with promises of an Arab kingdom. These early Arab ‘nationalists’ even agreed to hand over Palestine to the Zionists. What did these gullible Arab nationalists receive in return for their betrayal of the Islamic Ottomans who had staunchly refused to cooperate with the Zionists? A vivisection of the eastern segment of the Arab world into paltry Arab fiefdoms, mostly controlled by the British, French and, later, the Americans. In addition, they helped to create Israel, which would engage in ethnic cleansing and endless wars against the Arabs into the indefinite future.

Let the Pakistanis also consider momentarily the implications of an Iran driven by nationalism alone to normalize relations with Israel. What if the two then joined hands with India to try to balkanize Pakistan? Drafting blinkered ‘nationalist’ arguments ­ or with appropriate inducements from Israel and India ­ the Iranians too could begin to see plenty of advantages in an alliance with Israel against Pakistan. Yet, the present rulers of Iran, a country whose claims to nationalism are more firmly grounded than Pakistan’s, have remained steadfast in their support of the Palestinian cause. They understand that in the long run Iranian security depends on the success of Palestinian resistance to Israeli expansionism.

What are the much-trumpeted ‘national’ interests that Musharraf hopes to advance by recognizing Israel? One common argument starts by noting, with apparent alarm, the growing economic and military ties between India and Israel. Pakistan, it is argued, can neutralize these Indian gains by normalizing relations with Israel. The wishful thinking in this argument is quickly exposed. With its light-weight economy ­ currently, 12 percent of India’s, and shrinking ­ Pakistan cannot even dream of matching the attractiveness of Indian markets for Israeli exporters. India’s trade with Israel ­ including trade in military hardware ­ will continue to grow rapidly even with Pakistani recognition of Israel.

If anything should alarm Pakistan, it is not India’s growing trade relations with Israel. After all, Israel is a mere one-third of one percent of the world economy. If India is our most serious adversary, economically and militarily, Pakistanis should rather worry about the rate at which they have been falling behind India in economic size, living standards, education, science, technology, and democratic institutions. Could the General make a start by eliminating the last deficit ­ in democratic institutions?

A second argument maintains that Pakistan can begin to mobilize Israel’s powerful lobbies in the US, in particular AIPAC, for its own interests. All it has to do is normalize relations with Israel. The naiveté of this argument borders on stupidity. Yes, Israel hankers for legitimacy which only Islamic states can give it. It is the key that will unlock the doors to Israeli penetration of the economies of Islamic countries; this will allow Israel to undermine the Islamic resistance to Zionism from within these countries. Surely, Israel will dangle the moon before gullible Pakistani generals and diplomats. But recognition is like virginity. Once Pakistan loses it, Israel will move to its next Islamic victim.

It is worth recounting here what one Pakistani newspaper ­ Daily Times ­ claims is Pakistan’s chief leverage over Israel. It writes that “Pakistan will remain strategically more important [to Israel] as a Muslim state than India as a buyer of [Israeli] arms. India has offered itself as a partner in war; Israel actually needs a partner for peace in the Middle East.” It is hard to fathom why Israel would turn to Pakistan ­ a country in South Asia ­ if it needs a partner for peace in the Middle East. Equally stunning, this newspaper has wholly bought into the Israeli canard that they had no partners for peace ­ even after the Oslo accords. Israel’s expansionist agenda depends on ethnic cleansings and wars. It has never lacked for Arab states eager to capitulate ­ once it defeated the Arab armies in 1948. Peace has never served Israel’s expansionist logic.

The General has repeatedly argued that there is no moral case now for denying legitimacy to Israel. If the Palestinians can recognize Israel, he demands, why should Pakistanis insist on being “more Palestinian than the Palestinians?” On moral consideration, this argument has no validity. Does a crime become legitimate if its victim ­ left undefended by society ­ ‘accepts’ his victimization? The Palestinian recognition of Israel amounts to nothing more than this. Abandoned by the world community ­ including the Muslims ­ some Palestinian factions chose the path of negotiation with their tormentors. In negotiations too, the Palestinians continue to reap a bitter harvest. Yet, instead of offering substantive support to the Palestinians, Pakistan’s military rulers seek to legitimize Israeli crimes ­ on the plea that the victims have done the same. This cannot be deemed moral: instead, it is moral cowardice in the extreme.

The deluded Pakistanis who urge recognition must be told ­ and told repeatedly ­ that Israel has only one strategic interest in Pakistan. Israelis look upon Pakistan as a target for attack and dismemberment, and this for two reasons. As the second largest Islamic country ­ by far the largest in West Asia ­ it could someday challenge Israeli ambitions in West and Central Asia. More urgently, Israel views Pakistan as a potential nuclear threat. In either case, Pakistan interests Israel primarily as a target ­ a target for its F-16s, missiles and nuclear arsenal. This proposition holds regardless of how cravenly Pakistan seeks to befriend Israel. Israel will not tolerate a united and nuclear-armed Pakistan. Let Pakistanis ignore this incontestable fact only at their peril.

In closing, I would like to state ­ for the record ­ what I believe are the conditions which Israel must satisfy before the Islamic world ­ or indeed, the world ­ can willingly grant it legitimacy. Israel must dismantle its apartheid structure and remove all the barriers to the return and rehabilitation of the Palestinians it has pushed out of their homes since 1948. Once these conditions have been fully met, Israel ­ under whatever name ­ will cease to be an imperialist project. It will lose its expansionist logic. It can then become a native of the Middle East, and live at peace with its Muslim neighbors.




M. SHAHID ALAM teaches economics at a university in Boston. Some of his previous essays are available in a book, Is There An Islamic Problem (IBT Books, 2004). He may be reached at









We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, (the “Website”).

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005


M. SHAHID ALAM is professor of economics at Northeastern University. This is an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism (Macmillan, November 2009). Contact me at