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    South Asia
     Mar 17, 2005
Pakistan seeks relief through Israel ties
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - In the changing world, where many Arab countries, as well as the Palestinian leadership, have adopted a more flexible policy toward Israel, decision-makers in Pakistan are developing a strategy to better relations with the Jewish state, though without compromising Islamabad's standing among Islamic countries.

Sources in Pakistan's strategic circles tell Asia Times Online that Pakistan believes that cordial relations with Israel will help neutralize much unnecessary pressure on Pakistan, and regain lost ground against India.

Indian rhetoric about Pakistan's so-called fundamentalist Islam portrays the country as the "naughty boy" of the region which supports anti-US and anti-Israeli movements. This has contributed to Pakistan's strategic isolation in South Asia.

Pakistan's leadership believes that despite support for the US-led "war on terror", the country does not get the status - and inducements - it deserves.

Pakistan initially has tried to open some back channels to establish communication with Israel, which does not have any direct grudge against Pakistan, except for a fear that Pakistan could be capable of developing nuclear warheads to target Israel. The sources tell ATol that in behind-the-scenes talks between officials of the two countries, Israel has been assured that Pakistan has largely capped its nuclear warhead program up to a specific range aimed at deterring India.

Pakistani officials are cautious, though, not to damage Pakistan's relations with other Islamic countries, especially Saudi Arabia.

"All decisions [about recognizing Israel] will be in line with member countries of the OIC [Organization of Islamic Countries], especially Arab countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, but a non-diplomatic limited interaction with Israel is a pragmatic approach in the present geo-strategic situation of the country and cannot be ruled out at any stage," a strategic expert told ATol.

"Though it is unrealistic to assume that Pakistan-Israel relations would immediately get relief for Pakistan, as there are strong Israeli reservations on Pakistan's policies, of course cordial terms with the Zionist state will surely neutralize Zionist lobbies in Washington in the Indo-Pakistan arms race," he added.

The post-September 11 situation finds Pakistan in virtual isolation. Its strategic depth in Afghanistan (pro-Taliban) has been lost, relations with India remain problematic, although warming, and Pakistan's pro-US policies have strained its relations with once most-friendly neighbor Iran.

Pakistan believes that India continues to receive US favors as its watchdog on both China and Pakistan - this despite Islamabad's support for the US in the "war on terror".

Except for a few military hardware deals and aid packages, Pakistan has watched with concern how India appears to be building up its resources. Delhi is negotiating a deal for the US Patriot Advanced Capability(PAC)-2 anti-ballistic missile system and is looking for PAC-3. In addition, a possible agreement between Dassault Aviation of France and India will provide the Indian air force with Mirage 2000-5, a multi-role combat fighter with advanced avionics.

Pakistan's military planners in general headquarters in Rawalpindi realize that over the past few years a level of nuclear deterrence has been achieved between them and India with the development of nuclear-capable long and short-range missiles. This deterrence has prevented the countries from going to war in the past.

But now India is seeking to neutralize Pakistan's nuclear threat by other means, such as the Patriot system and Mirage 2000-5 fighters.

Pakistan now wants some of the same - US military aid packages and loans - and believes the only way to do this is by neutralizing the pro-Israel lobby that has in the past worked against Pakistan's interests.

Already, say ATol sources, this approach has reaped some dividends: as a result of backchannel diplomacy, the US has agreed to provide Pakistan with F-16 aircraft if it also supplies them to India.

"When everybody is eyeing Indo-Pakistan relations, there are much faster developments to bring Israel and Pakistan closer. Though, not through tours, not cricket, but real business which will sooner rather than later yield results," a senior official commented.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, Bureau Chief, Pakistan, Asia Times Online. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

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