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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Pakistan and Israel

Filed under: Israel
Publication: Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review

Since Israel‘s establishment in May 1948, Pakistan, being a Muslim country, has refused to establish diplomatic relations with it. The agreements that Israel signed with Egypt in 1978, the PLO in 1993, and Jordan in 1994 brought no change in Pakistan‘s policy. However, Israeli and Pakistani officials maintained clandestine contacts over the years. 

The main reasons for Pakistan’s policy toward Israel are: (1) religious solidarity with the Arab-Muslim countries; (2) fear of an adverse response by radical Islamist groups throughout the Muslim world; and (3) concern that establishing diplomatic relations with Israel may cause instability within Pakistan. Pakistan‘s political and military leaders have always striven to get along with its radical clergy and likely will remain committed to the country’s Muslim identity. Only significant progress in relations between Israel and the Arab states could lead to a change in Pakistan‘s position.

The Muslim countries in Asia constitute a significant component of the continent’s population. These include Indonesia, the largest Muslim state in the world with 210 million people at the end of the twentieth century, more than all Arab countries combined; Pakistan and Bangladesh, each with a population of about 130 million; Malaysia, with 18 million inhabitants; and other, smaller countries such as Brunei and Maldives. Some Muslim countries in Asia are particularly hostile to Israel. In addition, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Thailand have Muslim minorities that exert a certain amount of influence over their country’s foreign policy, especially regarding diplomatic relations with Israel and sentiments toward the Arabs. Other Asian countries have Muslim minorities as well, but these lack significant influence over relations with Israel.

Hatred of Israel, and the refusal to recognize or establish diplomatic relations with it, are evident to some extent in all Muslim countries in Asia. This phenomenon is based on feelings of Islamic solidarity with Arab countries and a sense of religious belonging to the global Islamic community, the umma.[1] In recent decades, the atmosphere in most Muslim countries has become increasingly radical. Contributing to this trend is the belief that Jews, Zionism, and Israel are anti-Islam, anti-Arab, and pro-American. Radical Islamic circles exert pressure on governments to become involved in worldwide Islamic issues, above all the Palestinian problem and support for Arab countries’ struggle against Israel.[2]

Israel has signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, has normalized its relations beginning in early 1992 with China, India, and South Korea, and has significantly improved its relations with Japan. Nevertheless, Muslim countries in Asia-Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, and Brunei-still refuse to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. In 1992, after the aforementioned developments, there were hopes that those Muslim countries would be influenced. Indonesia and Pakistan gave hints in that direction. Representatives of Jewish organizations from the United States and Australia, as well as diplomats from countries friendly to Israel, were also involved in attempts to clarify the Muslim countries’ stance. However, internal developments in these countries and changes in government led to a cessation of contact.[3]

The twentieth century has ended and fifty-nine years have passed since Israel was established. But the Jewish state has never had diplomatic relations with the Asian Muslim countries, except tiny Maldives for a brief period. The agreements that were signed with Egypt in 1978, the PLO in 1993, and Jordan in 1994 brought no change in the Asian Muslim countries’ policies. There were, however, limited improvements in some areas, particularly tourism and trade, but not regarding diplomatic relations. Governments of the Asian Muslim countries were less concerned about Arab countries than about the increasingly radical Islamic atmosphere in their own societies, among circles that were not influenced by the agreements in the Middle East. These governments were not willing to risk confronting these groups. Israeli diplomacy was not effective here at all.

Pakistan’s Islamic Allegiance

Pakistan was established on 14 August 1947 as a result of the division of the Indian subcontinent. In 1940, Indian Muslims had already started demanding India’s division, disengagement from Hindu nationalism, and the creation of an independent nationalist-Muslim country. Their leader, Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948), claimed that Indian Muslims possessed a unique and separate culture with their own language, religion, history, literature, art, architecture, laws, leaders, and traditions. Although leaders of the nationalist Hindu movement, the Congress Party, opposed the Muslims’ demands, in the end the Indian Muslims prevailed and India was divided.

Since Pakistan’s establishment, its foreign policy has been influenced by the fact that it is a Muslim country founded on an Islamic religious basis. Islamic solidarity has been a central component of Pakistan’s foreign policy in general and toward the Middle East in particular. Pakistan has staunchly and persistently supported Arab positions in the United Nations and other arenas. In return, Pakistan expected the support of Arab and Muslim countries in its ongoing conflict with India over Kashmir and other issues.

In 1947 Pakistan’s representative to the United Nations, Sir Zafrullah Khan, waged a struggle against the UN Partition Plan for Palestine (1947). Khan strove for the establishment of a federal state in Palestine. During Israel’s War of Independence (1947-1949), Israel’s diplomatic mission in Washington received information that Pakistan was trying to provide military assistance to the Arabs, including rumors that a Pakistani battalion would be sent to Palestine to fight alongside them. Pakistan bought 250,000 rifles in Czechoslovakia that apparently were meant for the Arabs. Also, it became known that Pakistan bought three planes in Italy for the Egyptians.[4]

Early Attempts at Contacts

Nevertheless, when the battles had died down in 1949 and the ceasefire agreement had been signed, some in the Israeli Foreign Ministry believed it might be possible to open legations in Karachi, then the capital of Pakistan, or at least to conduct trade openly.[5] Initial contact between the ambassador (high commissioner) of Pakistan in London and representatives of Israel and Jewish organizations was made in early 1950. The Pakistani government was asked to issue passage permits to India for a few hundred Jews who had been forced to leave Afghanistan and wanted to emigrate to Israel. The Pakistani government refused to allow them to transit through Pakistan and the Jews left through Iran.[6]

In Cairo in March 1952, Zafrullah Khan, who had meanwhile been appointed Pakistan’s foreign minister, said he thought Israel and Arab countries ought to reach an agreement, though he emphasized that his country supported the Arabs’ demands. For example, the Arabs wanted Israel to alter borders, provide monetary compensation, and make assurances that it had no aggressive intentions.[7]

Consequently, a meeting was arranged in New York between Zafrullah Khan and Abba Eban, then Israel’s ambassador to the United States, on 14 January 1953. Regarding Israeli-Pakistani relations, Zafrullah Khan told Eban that his government would not be able to withstand the extremists’ opposition and that there was no chance for improved relations between the two countries in the near future “despite the fact that the Pakistani government does not bear any hatred toward Israel and understands that it is a factor in the Middle East that must be taken into consideration.” For the time being, he expressed his approval of mutual visits of experts, students, and professors. He added that when the Arabs exhibited willingness to meet with Israel to solve problems, Pakistan would try to influence the Arabs toward reaching an agreement.[8]

In March and April 1954, Zafrullah Khan stated on several occasions that his country did not recognize Israel and had no intention of doing so. Israel was a foreign wedge in the Middle East and posed a danger not only to surrounding Arab countries but to the entire Islamic world. Pakistan would aid the Arabs in protecting sites holy to Islam. The Pakistani prime minister, of Pakistan, told a visiting group of Palestinian Arab clergy that the issue of Palestine was not only an Arab one but also a Muslim one. He promised them his country’s loyalty on issues pertaining to “Muslims in Palestine.” He kept this promise at a conference of Asian heads of state, held in Colombo in 1954 in advance of the Bandung Conference, and during the Bandung Conference itself. For this he was praised by King Saud of Saudi Arabia.[9]

An Ongoing Hostility

Hostile Pakistani statements as well as the United States’ intention to supply weapons to Pakistan were worrisome to Israel. These concerns were raised in the Knesset.[10] In November 1956, following Egypt’s defeat in the Sinai Campaign, there were incidents of incitement and rioting against the approximately five hundred Jews remaining in Karachi. The Israeli Foreign Ministry suggested that the World Jewish Congress or other organizations should pressure Pakistan in Washington and in the UN General Assembly in New York to protect those Jews.[11]

Pakistan did not miss any opportunity to display its characteristically pro-Arab and anti-Israeli policy, which stemmed from a sense of Muslim identification but also from practical political considerations, and which was constantly becoming more extreme. Arab countries considered pro-Western in the 1950s, such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, tended to side with Pakistan whereas those regarded as neutral, such as Egypt and Syria, showed a pro-Indian bent. Pakistan itself not only refrained from recognizing Israel or conducting any type of relations with it but also unconditionally supported the Arabs in the United Nations. Pakistan also refused to participate in sports events in which Israelis took part (except for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles), or to permit Israelis to attend international conferences held in Pakistan. Sometimes, but not always, the venues of international conferences were changed for this reason.

Pakistan and Britain were the only countries that recognized the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Jordan over the territory of Judea and Samaria that remained in Jordanian hands after the fighting had ended in 1949. In 1962, Pakistan officially announced to all Arab countries that the commercial, economic, and cultural boycott it had imposed on Israel was total and that Pakistan viewed Israel as a “thieving country.” It promised to act “alongside Arab countries for the purpose of returning the Holy Land to its lawful inhabitants.” On 4 July 1967, after the Six Day War, the UN General Assembly accepted a Pakistani resolution regarding the situation in Jerusalem, which expressed concern over the steps taken by Israel to change its status.[12] In late 1979, a severe flood occurred in Eastern Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in which approximately half a million people perished. Israel offered to send Pakistan medicine, food, and mobile clinics via the International Red Cross; Pakistan refused.[13]

An Islamic Intensification

In the first years of its existence, Pakistan’s foreign policy focused on ties with the West, particularly the United States. In the early 1970s a change occurred; Pakistan’s foreign policy remained primarily supportive of the moderate Arabs, but it acquired a more Islamic orientation. This was caused by Pakistan’s disappointment with the West after being defeated in the 1971 war against India, and primarily by the mounting Islamic sentiments among the Pakistani public and the increase in Arab countries’ power. The strengthening of ties with Muslim countries in general, and with Arab countries in particular, stemmed from the following factors:

1.  The need to garner support in the conflict with India

2.  The desire to promote economic interests, such as importing cheap oil, ensuring a flow of income from Pakistani workers employed in Arab countries (in 1983 this came to about $3 billion), developing markets for Pakistani products, and receiving loans and grants

3. The need to obtain international political support in the face of the Soviet threat during the war with Afghanistan

4. The desire to exhibit international Islamic solidarity to internal religious circles

5. The need to prevent Iranian subversion in Pakistan

From this period onward, military cooperation between Pakistan and several Arab countries also increased. Thousands of Pakistani military advisers served in the armies of Saudi Arabia and Gulf states, and also aided in the maintenance of weapons and equipment provided by the United States. A Pakistani researcher even claimed that in the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars, Pakistani pilots flying Jordanian and Syrian planes downed some Israeli planes, whereas in the 1982 battle for Beirut between Israel and the PLO, fifty Pakistani volunteers serving in the PLO were taken prisoner by Israel. After the 1973 war, Pakistan and the PLO signed an agreement for training PLO officers in Pakistani military institutions.[14]

Pakistan and the PLO developed close ties. The PLO was first recognized as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians at an Islamic summit in Lahore in February 1974. This was approved six months later at an Arab summit in Rabat. PLO missions in Karachi and Islamabad (Pakistan’s capital since 1960) received full diplomatic recognition in 1975. During the First Intifada that began in 1987, pro-PLO rallies were held in Pakistan and the government sent the organization food and medical supplies.

On the issue of Israel, Pakistan was careful not to take any stand that could jeopardize its relations with Arab countries or provoke Islamic elements within its borders. Pakistan’s aggressive statements toward Israel sometimes caused it to have friction with the United States. For example, in March 1984, Pakistan warned the United States not to transfer its embassy to Jerusalem, and that year Pakistan severed relations with Costa Rica for moving its embassy to Jerusalem in April.[15]

Pakistan’s hostility did not prevent the Israeli government from expressing, in 1961 and 1963, its willingness to sell Uzi submachine guns to Pakistan through the Belgian company FN, which produced these weapons under Israeli license. However, during the 1965 Indian-Pakistani war over Kashmir, an American expert on Pakistan advised the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Abe Harman, that Israel should display “military goodwill” (probably meaning increased military contacts) toward Pakistan, but Harman replied negatively.[16]

The Nuclear Issue

In 1974, India succeeded to produce nuclear weapons. Pakistan immediately followed suit, ignoring the weak U.S. pressure to dissuade it from doing so. Pakistan received hundreds of millions of dollars from Libya and Saudi Arabia to aid its efforts to produce nuclear weapons. Israel had grave concerns about Pakistan’s “Islamic bomb” and monitored events closely. It was also believed that Iraq had acquired nuclear know-how from Pakistan, and Israel was worried that Iran and perhaps Saudi Arabia would acquire this know-how as well. There was no doubt in Israel that Iraq intended to use its nuclear plant for military purposes.

In 1980, in Washington and other world capitals, Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and others tried to work against this threat. In a speech to the Senate on 2 April 1981, Senator Allan Cranston warned of the danger that Arab countries might pressure nuclear-armed Pakistan to intervene in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Notwithstanding Israel’s concerns, there was also information that Pakistan had asked for Israel’s help in influencing Washington to bring about demilitarization of the Indian subcontinent and a halting of the Indian-Pakistani nuclear race. The Pakistanis made assurances that they had no reason to become involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict.[17]

Israel did not wage a public relations war against the “Pakistani threat.” Pakistan was considered in Israel as a responsible country and not one that sponsored terror, such as Iran or Iraq. However, suspicions abounded in Pakistan, particularly in 1988, about a joint Israeli-Indian attack on Pakistan’s nuclear facilities in Kahuta not far from the border with Kashmir. Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif said in an interview to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn on 29 July 1991 that he feared Israel would attack Pakistani nuclear sites.

Various speculations on this matter were published in the London Observer on 28 March 1988 and were repeated in other media. Key Israeli officials denied that Israel had any intention of acting militarily against Pakistan. This was so despite the aid that Pakistan had provided to the Arabs in the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, and the promises it had made to Syria about greater Pakistani involvement in a possible future war.[18]

Hopes for a Change

After establishing diplomatic relations with China and normalizing relations with India in January 1992, the Israeli Foreign Ministry started to closely monitor the large Muslim countries in Asia, including Pakistan. There were some indications that Pakistan’s attitude toward Israel was changing for the better. The first, and most explicit, was an interview to the press granted by the Pakistani ambassador in Washington, Sayyidah Abidah Hussein, on 31 January 1992 following the normalization of Israeli-Indian relations some days earlier. She said that with the Palestinians holding talks with Israel, and India establishing full relations with it, there was no reason Pakistan should not also have diplomatic ties with Israel. The spokesperson for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry denied this.

A representative of the World Jewish Congress in Melbourne said he had found out from businesspeople in Pakistan that the Pakistani foreign minister, Shahariyar Khan, was willing to start clandestine talks with Israel because he believed Pakistan would benefit from them. In June of that year, Congressman Stephen Solarz met with Pakistan’s foreign minister and its ambassador to the United States and was told that they did not rule out meeting with representatives of Jewish organizations in the United States.

During the year, some governments friendly to Israel addressed the issue with Pakistan. Spontaneous meetings also took place between Israeli and Pakistani diplomatic representatives. There was also an improvement during this period in Pakistan’s public position toward Israel and in Pakistani representatives’ rhetoric in international forums. It was believed that Pakistan’s difficult economic situation, shaky relations with the United States (primarily because of its nuclear program), and strong desire to improve its image were driving it toward improving its relations with Israel. Some Pakistani representatives clearly expressed these sentiments in meetings.[19]

On 16 December 1992, this author, then head of the Asia-Africa Department of the Israeli Foreign Ministry,[20] held a chance meeting with the respective entourages of Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres and Pakistani prime minister Sharif. Both were visiting Japan and by coincidence were staying at the same hotel. Asked whether it would be possible to set up a meeting between Peres and Sharif, the director-general of the Pakistani Prime Minister’s Office, Akram Zaki, said it could not be done clandestinely and suggested trying to arrange a meeting in Davos, Switzerland, in late January 1993 when both men would be there.

Zaki noted that over the past two years, meaning when Sharif had been prime minister, there had been less anti-Israeli rhetoric coming out of Pakistan. He explained that the Pakistanis thought any type of cooperation with Israel could be beneficial and would want Israel’s help in improving their weak standing in Washington. He also said they were being pressured about their nuclear development and were willing to guarantee to Israel that they would not transfer sensitive technology to “countries west of us,” meaning Iran and Arab countries. This assurance came despite the fact that “certain countries” had even offered Pakistan large sums of badly needed cash in exchange for this technology. Pakistan, Zaki wanted Israel to know, had made and kept such promises to the United States in the past.

His Israeli interlocutor responded that it would be difficult for Israel to act on Pakistan’s behalf so long as there was no progress in establishing relations between them. Israel was conducting dialogue with certain Arab countries and there was no reason for Pakistan to continue its traditional extremism. Zaki responded that the main deterrent to relations with Israel was the fear of a negative reaction by extremist circles within Pakistan. He was aware of recent meetings between Pakistani and Israel representatives in various capitals throughout the world and also knew about Ambassador Abidah Hussein’s positive statements about establishing ties with Israel. He added that the Pakistani government had had no choice but to reprimand her for them.[21]

Contacts at the United Nations

In the early 1990s, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gad Yaacobi, had frequent contacts with Pakistani representatives. In 1992, the Israeli delegation to the United Nations had to decide whether to support Pakistan’s election to the Security Council. Yaacobi favored it, and after receiving permission from the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, the Israeli delegation voted affirmatively. This paved the way to a series of contacts between Yaacobi and the Pakistani UN ambassador, Jamshi Merkar, who thanked the Israeli representative for his support.

On 17 March 1993, Yaacobi held a meeting between Merkar and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. During it, Merkar said he thought progress toward Israeli-Pakistani diplomatic relations would only be possible when there was concrete progress toward Middle East peace.

Merkar once attended a reception held by Yaacobi. A Pakistani newspaper criticized him, saying that until a Palestinian state was established with Jerusalem as its capital, every Muslim or Pakistani patriot should regard contact with Israelis, developing diplomatic relations with them, or attending their receptions as conspiring against Pakistan and Muslims.

On 2 November 1995, Yaacobi also met with the new Pakistani UN ambassador, Ahmad Kamal. Yaacobi gave him an overview of the developments in Israel’s relations with various Islamic countries and suggested that Pakistan follow suit. Kamal said a change in his government’s position would depend on the situation in the Middle East and primarily on public opinion in Pakistan.[22]

During 1993, Jewish organizations tried to bring about normalized Pakistani-Israeli relations. In the United States, representatives of the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League met with the Pakistani ambassadors to Washington and the United Nations. The vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, Isi Leibler, visited Islamabad on 12-16 February. This trip was coordinated with the foreign ministries of Israel and Australia (Leibler being an Australian citizen) and with the State Department. Again it was Pakistani ambassador Sayyidah Abidah Hussein who arranged a meeting for Leibler with Shahabaz Sharif, the brother of Prime Minister Sharif, who was considered influential in the prime minister’s close circles. Leibler told him that a change in approach toward Israel would help improve Pakistan’s deteriorated image in the United States.

Shahabaz Sharif responded that Pakistan had always supported its Arab allies against Israel. Pakistan was worried about Israeli commandos training Indian forces in Kashmir, and by Israel’s suspected intentions, in recent years, to bomb Pakistan’s nuclear facilities. Leibler responded that he was authorized to say that both of those concerns were totally baseless. As for establishing relations with Israel, Sharif explained that any initiative to do so would incite riots. At the end of the meeting, the two agreed that further contacts between them would be arranged via Pakistan’s ambassador (high commissioner) in London.

About two months later, on 19 April 1993, Leibler met with the Pakistani high commissioner in London, but it was ill-timed. One day earlier, political changes had taken place in Pakistan and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had been removed from office (see below).[23]

Continuing Efforts

The problem, however, was more fundamental. Earlier, at a meeting in New Delhi between a Pakistani and an Israeli diplomat on 12 March 1993, the former had said the internal situation in Pakistan would under no circumstances allow normalization of relations with Israel. If the idea was raised, religious leaders could cause turmoil that no political party could withstand.[24]

Meanwhile, contact was maintained with the abovementioned Akram Zaki, director-general of the Pakistani Prime Minister’s Office. On 11 March, a few weeks before Nawaz Sharif’s removal from office, Zaki met with Congressman Gary Ackerman in Washington. Ackerman brought up the issue of Pakistani-Israeli relations and said the United States would welcome normalization. Zaki responded that the time was not ripe.

A few days later, on 16 March, the two met again in New York, this time also with the Israeli vice-consul-general, Mark Sofer. Zaki told them about a meeting he had had a few months earlier in Tokyo with an Israeli diplomat, and about his desire to bring about normalization on the condition that all contacts would be kept secret. This was necessary because of the strong opposition in Pakistan by extremist Muslims. He repeated the promise that Pakistan would not pass along nuclear technology to other parties, particularly not Iran. He also explained that his plans to arrange a meeting in Davos between Nawaz Sharif and Foreign Minister Peres had fallen through because there were numerous Pakistani journalists in town at the time.[25]

Peres met with Pakistani journalists in 1994 and through them conveyed the message that Pakistan should abandon its illogical policy and establish diplomatic relations with Israel. By then Israel had already established diplomatic ties with a dozen other Muslim countries. Now that the Palestinians had ended, on 13 September 1993, their protracted conflict with Israel, there was no reason for Pakistan not to follow suit. Peres confirmed that Israeli and Pakistani representatives had had contacts. Pakistan did support the Israeli-PLO agreement of 13 September, but the following day the then prime minister, Muin Kureishi, stated that Pakistan’s position on recognizing Israel would not change until the question of Jerusalem was resolved.[26]

Political Change in Pakistan

On 24 April 1993, the president of Pakistan, Ghulam Is’hak Khan, had ousted Prime Minister Sharif. Sayyidah Abidah Hussein, the ambassador to the United States, resigned in protest. Sharif’s removal constituted a blow to Israel’s efforts to reach an agreement with Pakistan. Israel and its friends had no acquaintance with the president of Pakistan or with the new officials who had risen to power. However, access to them was achieved.

On 30 April 1993, the Israeli daily Maariv published an article about an Israeli journalist who was permitted to visit Pakistan and meet with some officials. She learned that there were indeed people in the new government who believed Pakistan should establish ties with Israel, and that there were also fears that the general public would not approve and that the opposition would exploit the situation. A delegation of the American Jewish Committee heard similar sentiments expressed when it met with a diplomat in the Pakistani embassy in Washington on 13 May 1993.[27]

Still, there was some positive movement. A Pakistani newspaper reported that postal connections between Pakistan and Israel had been established via a third country. Letters with Israeli stamps on them reached Karachi via Cairo. Arab residents of Pakistan received letters from their relatives in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. Letters from Pakistan to Israel and the territories were sent via London in two envelopes; the address of the postal manager in London appeared on the outer one, the address of the letter’s recipient on the inner one. On 27 August 1994, Pakistani newspapers reported that certain foreign policy experts were proposing an urgent reevaluation of Pakistan’s policy toward Israel, and that Muslim countries in the Middle East were building ties with Israel without consulting Pakistan. Why could not Pakistan develop relations with Israel when Egypt, Jordan, and the PLO had already done so?[28]

An incident then occurred that further exemplified Pakistan’s longstanding animosity toward Israel. Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, invited Pakistan’s new prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, to visit Gaza. The visit was set for 4 September 1994. Pakistan’s ambassador to Egypt aimed to arrive in Gaza on 28 August to prepare for the visit. He came to the Rafah border crossing into Gaza, but was refused entry by Israel since this had not been prearranged. Pakistan refused to officially request permission for the ambassador to enter, stating that it did not recognize Israeli rule over Gaza and regarded the PLO as the legal authority there. Prime Minister Rabin ascribed “bad manners” to Bhutto for planning the visit without informing Israel.[29]

Another incident occurred sometime earlier when Israeli president Ezer Weizman met with Prime Minister Bhutto during a visit he made to South Africa. Bhutto told Weizman that before there could be a breakthrough in Israeli-Pakistani relations, progress in the peace process was required. The Pakistani media published an official denial that such a meeting even took place. The Pakistani government spokesman termed the press report a “fabrication” and said it was part of an Israeli disinformation campaign against Pakistan. A few years later, on 29 October 1998, Weizman met with Pakistani president Muhammad Rafiq Tarrar at a reception in Ankara marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of modern Turkey. According to press reports, Tarrar approached Weizman, shook his hand, and expressed his hope that “one day we will meet again.”[30]

On other occasions during the 1990s, Prime Minister Bhutto and other officials explained Pakistan’s stance on diplomatic relations with Israel. In an April 1995 visit to Washington, Bhutto was asked at the State Department about Pakistani-Israeli ties. She responded that she was interested in principle but would have to ensure that extremist groups would not use the issue against her. Earlier, on 17 November 1994, Pakistan’s foreign minister explained that there had been no change in Pakistan’s policy toward Israel, and Pakistan could not consider recognizing Israel before a lasting peace was achieved, including a solution to the question of Jerusalem. He added that the Palestinian issue not only affected the Arab countries but the entire Muslim world, and, moreover, that Israel’s cooperation with India worried Pakistan.

Bhutto also said on various occasions that Pakistan would recognize Israel only if the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) were to make a decision on this matter, and only after peace was achieved between Israel and its neighbors.[31] Despite these statements, a slight lessening of the Pakistani hostility was evident when, on 6 February 1996, eight Pakistani journalists arrived in Israel, the first such visit there by Pakistani media. Although the journalists did not come as an official delegation, behind the scenes there was a political actor that was very cautiously exhibiting interest in relations with Israel.[32]

At the same time, information came to light that Israeli businessman Yaakov Nimrodi had visited Pakistan and met with the foreign minister who encouraged him to launch commercial endeavors between the two countries. He expressed an interest in telecommunications, establishing a medical center, various agricultural issues, and encouraging religious-based tourism. The Pakistani minister showed particular interest in upgrading airplanes and the supply of replacement parts. On 4 November 1995, Nimrodi reported on the visit to Rabin, who responded positively to this contact.[33]

The lack of diplomatic progress between Pakistan and Israel spurred Jewish leaders from New York to protest to the Pakistani consul-general in that city in June 1998. During the meeting, at which a Pakistani banker was also present, the Jewish leaders told the consul-general that the American Jewish community could not understand Pakistan’s refusal to establish ties, especially after Israel had signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. The opposition of Pakistani extremist groups should not prevent gradual steps to build economic, cultural, and academic relations, as well as a change in Pakistan’s voting pattern at the United Nations. Such steps would be welcomed by the American Jewish community, the general American public, and perhaps the business community as well.

The Jewish leaders also expressed concern that Pakistani nuclear technology could fall into the hands of Iran or Iraq. They assured the Pakistanis that there was no nuclear cooperation between Israel and India aimed against Pakistan. The consul-general promised that Pakistan would not pass along any military technology, conventional or nuclear, to enemies of Israel or the West. He did not say anything about relations with Israel.[34]

The Musharraf Era

After General Pervez Musharraf took power in Pakistan in an October 1999 military coup, he hastened to calm Israel on the nuclear issue but also announced that there would be no progress toward relations.[35] Pakistan was, however, worried about the security ties between India and Israel and, as reported in the press, even conveyed the message to Israel that it saw this as a threat to Pakistan. Israel replied that its ties with India were not aimed “against a third country.” Israel refused Pakistan’s request to reveal the components of the Israeli-Indian security ties and said that if Pakistan was worried, it could open diplomatic relations with Israel. Indeed, in June 2003, Musharraf said on several occasions before and after trips that month to the United States that Pakistan should seriously consider ties with Israel. This appeared, however, to be merely for public relations purposes.[36] Musharraf continued to make such gestures, and this benefited him in the United States.

On 1 September 2005, a public meeting was held in Istanbul between the then Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom and his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Kasuri. Shalom was euphoric and said the meeting was a “source of great encouragement and hope for the Israeli people and aids in strengthening the moderates on the Palestinian side.” The Israeli journalists present were also swept up in the exaggerated excitement and called it a “historic meeting.” They said it was a Pakistani “gift” to Israel for evacuating its settlements in Gaza, which was taking place at that time.

Soon after, during a visit to the United States, Musharraf agreed to be the guest of honor at an American Jewish Congress dinner held in New York on 17 September. Representatives of various Jewish organizations attended. Musharraf’s speech dealt with Islamic-Jewish relations throughout history. As for Israel, he repeated the familiar refrain that progress in relations depended on “progress in the peace process and the establishment of a Palestinian state.”[37]


The main factors preventing Pakistan from recognizing and establishing diplomatic relations with Israel are:

1. Solidarity with Muslim countries in general and with Arab countries in particular. This religiously based solidarity is part of Pakistan’s national identity and one of the mainsprings of its foreign policy.

2. Fear of an adverse response by influential Islamists. Pakistan could only cope with this risk if most other Arab and Muslim countries set up ties with Israel.

3. Internal instability, which has plagued Pakistan since its inception and often has led to military intervention in the political process. To stabilize their position, civilian politicians and military officials have always striven to get along with the clergy and have remained committed to Pakistan’s Muslim identity.[38]

All this would not prevent clandestine Pakistani-Israeli ties in various fields. A modest change could come about if Pakistan believed it would improve its standing in the United States, and perhaps in response to pressure from Jewish organizations and from Western statesmen who could pose a counterweight to the radical Muslims. Progress in relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors could also influence Pakistan. It is not likely that Pakistan would move on its own before that happens.

*     *     *


[1]. On the umma, see, e.g., Encyclopedia of Islam, 1st ed., Vol. 8, 1015-16.

[2]. Israel State Archive (ISA), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), file 60/13 (“Israel and Asia,” March 1967) [the archival material is generally in Hebrew]; Fred R. Von der Mehden, Two Worlds of Islam: Interaction between Southeast Asia and the Middle East (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1993), 44-46; N. Ganesan, “Islamic Responses within ASEAN to Singapore’s Foreign Policy,” Asian Thought and Society, May 1988, 126, 132; G. H. Jansen, Zionism, Israel and Asian Nationalism (Beirut: Institute of Palestine Studies, 1971), 290.

[3]. Central Zionist Archive (CZA), file A468 (Foreign Ministry deputy director-general for Asia and Africa to diplomatic missions in Washington, New York, London, The Hague, Rome, and Bonn, 2 February 1992; “The big Muslim countries in Asia,” memorandum by Foreign Ministry deputy director-general for Asia and Africa, 15 March 1993).

[4]. Weizmann Archives (WA), E. Epstein to K. M. Panikkav, 14 July 1948; David Ben-Gurion, War Diary: The War for Independence, 1948-1949, Vol. 3 (Tel Aviv: Ministry of Defense, 1986), 762, 945. [Hebrew]

[5]. ISA/MFA file 2554 A (Y. Shimoni to Foreign Ministry director-general, 5 December 1949); ISA/MFA file 2559/10 (Research Division to M. Comay, “Contacts with Pakistan,” 27 September 1951); W. Norman Brown, ed., India, Pakistan, Ceylon (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1950), 197-98.

[6]. CZA files Z6/334 and S71/648 (Ha’Boker, 10 January 1950, 13 April 1950; Herut, 3 November 1950).

[7]. ISA/MFA file 2414/6 (Israeli foreign minister to ministry’s division and selected diplomatic missions, 28 August 1952); W. Norman Brown, The United States and India and Pakistan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958), 249, 256, 276.

[8]. ISA/MFA file 2414/11 (G. Refael to director-general: “A conversation with Sir Zafrullah Khan, foreign minister of Pakistan,” 16 January 1953).

[9]. ISA/MFA file 2559/10 (Research Division: “Zafrullah Khan to the press in Karachi,” 9 April 1954); ISA/MFA file 2556/5 (“Press clippings”); Moshe Sharett, Personal Diary, Vol. 2 (Tel Aviv: Maariv Library, 1978), 380-81. [Hebrew]

[10]. Divrei Ha’Knesset, 8 March 1954, 1083, 1085; 10 May 1954, 1619. [Hebrew]

[11]. CZA file Z6/1090 (Telegram from the representative of the Aliyah Division, Bombay, 12 November 1956; memorandum by Aryeh Eshel of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, 13 November 1956).

[12]. ISA/MFA file 230/9 (“Israel in Asia,” 1 July 1955); ISA/MFA file 3432/40 (Research Division: “Pakistan supports Arab boycott against Israel,” 31 July 1962); Israeli Foreign Ministry, Official Documents Annual, 1979, 211; Meron Medzini, ed., Israel‘s Foreign Relations: Selected Documents, 1947-1974, Vol. 1 (Jerusalem: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1976), 247-48.

[13]. Divrei Ha’Knesset, 23 December 1970, 650.

[14]. Mushahid Hussain, “How Pakistan Views Israel and the Palestinians,” Middle East International, September 1988, 21; P. R. Kumaraswamy, Beyond the Veil: Israel-Pakistan Relations (Tel Aviv: Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, 2000), 34.

[15]. Hussain, ibid., 20-21.

[16]. ISA/MFA file 3337/62 (A. Ben-Natan to Ch. Yahil: “Selling ‘Uzi’ to Pakistan,” 18 September 1961; reply of the director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, 21 September 1961); ISA/MFA file 3432/41 (Maimon to Ch. Yahil: “Selling ‘Uzi’ to Pakistan,” 19 May 1963; reply of the director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, 23 May 1963); ISA/MFA file 4056/29 (Israeli ambassador in Washington to M. Gazit, 31 January 1967).

[17]. Shlomo Nakdimon, Tammuz in Flames: The Bombing of the Iraqi Nuclear Reactor  (Tel Aviv: Idanim, 1993), 139-40, 143-44, 173, 185, 190, 207, 391-92, 437 [Hebrew]; Daniel Pipes, “International Influences in South Asia,” International Insight, May-June 1986, 9; Gerald M. Steinberg, “Assessing the Impact of the Indian and Pakistani Nuclear Test on the Middle East,” Jerusalem Letter/Viewpoints, 15 July 1998, 3-6.

[18]. Michael Weiss, “The Reactor That Was Not Bombed,” Kol Hair, 31 January 1988 [Hebrew]; Semadar Peri, “Why Did Israel Not React against the Pakistani Bomb?” Yediot Aharonot, 5 June 1998 [Hebrew]; Shlomo Nakdimon, “Khan Theater,” Makor Rishon, 20 February 2004 [Hebrew]. It is difficult to asses the reliability of these reports until researchers are granted unfettered access to state archives. Juan Romero, “Charting Reactions to the Islamic Bomb,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, Vol. 11, No. 3 (1999): 32; Moonis Ahmar, “Pakistan and Israel: Distant Adversaries or Neighbors?” Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 20, No. 1 (1996): 21, 25, 29.

[19]. CZA file A468 (I. Leibler to M. Yegar, 24 July 1992; Mark Sofer to M. Yegar, 1 June 1992; I. Leibler to M. Yegar, 11 August 1992; I. Shelef to M. Yegar, 25 August 1992; M. Yegar to selected diplomatic missions, 8 October 1992, 15 March 1993.)

[20]. A posting that lasted from November 1990 to September 1993.

[21]. CZA file A468, 20 December 1992 (M. Yegar to the Israeli foreign minister).

[22]. Gad Yaacobi, New York Diary: The Story of Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations (Tel Aviv: Yediot Aharonot and Hemed, 1997), 33-34, 78-79, 103, 392 [Hebrew]; P. R. Kumaraswamy, “The Strangely Parallel Careers of Israel and Pakistan,” Middle East Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 2 (1997): 39.

[23]. Isi Leibler and Bruce Wolpe, “Report on World Jewish Congress Mission to Pakistan, February 12-16, 1993,” Melbourne, 1993, 2, 6-7, 11-22; CZA file A468 (A. Foxman, national director of the ADL, to the foreign minister of Pakistan and to Pakistan’s ambassador to the United Nations, 25 August 1992; M. Yegar to M. Hoenlein, executive vice-president of the Presidents’ Conference, New York, 5 February 1993).

[24]. CZA file A468 (Yaacov Rosen, New Delhi, to Israeli Foreign Ministry deputy director-general for Asia and Africa, 12 March 1993).

[25]. CZA file A468 (H. Mandel: “On Ackerman’s meeting with the permanent secretary of Pakistan’s foreign office,” 16 March 1993; Mark Sofer, New York: “A meeting with Akram Zaki, permanent secretary of Pakistan’s foreign office,” 17 March 1993).

[26]. Ahmar, “Pakistan and Israel,” 36, 40.

[27]. Maariv, 30 April 1993; CZA file A468 (M. Yegar to M. Sofer, 25 April 1993).

[28]. Ahmar Mustikhan, “Pak-Israel Postal Links?” The News International, 11 May 1994; Ahmar, “Pakistan and Israel,” 25, 37, 39.

[29]. Official Documents Annual, 1994, 49; Peri, “Why Did Israel Not React?”; Alon Pinkas, “Beilin: Bhutto Needs Israel’s Permission to Enter Gaza Strip,” Jerusalem Post, 26 August 1994; Ahmar, ibid., 31-33; Kumaraswamy, Beyond the Veil, 35-36.

[30]. CZA file A468 (“A survey by the Asia and Africa Department,” 21 April-19 May 1994); Peri, ibid.; Itamar Eichner, “First Meeting between the Presidents of Pakistan and Israel,” Yediot Aharonot, 30 October 1998. [Hebrew]

[31]. CZA file A468 (surveys by the Asia and Africa Department, 13-17 November 1994, 13-27 April 1995); Kumaraswamy, Beyond the Veil, 890; Ahmar, “Pakistan and Israel,” 40-42.

[32]. Ben Caspit, “Reporters from Pakistan in Israel,” Maariv, 7 February  1996. [Hebrew]

[33]. Gidi Weitz, “Ya’acov Nimrodi Conducted Contacts with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan with Yitzhak Rabin’s Blessing,” Kol Hair, 19 April  2000. [Hebrew]

[34]. Jewish Community Relations Council/New York (JCRC/NY), archive, correspondence with Pakistani officials, June-July 1998 (copies in CZA file A468).

[35]. Aluf Benn, “One Handshake with Arafat Is Worth a Thousand Speeches at the UN,” Haaretz, 25 April 2000. [Hebrew]

[36]. Itamar Eichner, “Israel-India Relations Threaten Pakistan,” Yediot Aharonot, 24 January 2002 [H.ebrew]; Yossi Melman, various articles on Pakistan, Haaretz, 18, 30 June, 9 July 2003, 10 March 2004. [Hebrew]

[37]. Daniel Pipes, “Musharraf’s Historic Speech,” New York Sun, 20 September 2005; see also reports in Haaretz, 2, 18 September 2005. [Hebrew]

[38]. P. R. Kumaraswamy, “Israel and Pakistan: Public Rhetoric versus Political Pragmatism,” Israel Affairs, Vol. 12, No. 1 (2006): 123-35; Kumaraswamy, Beyond the Veil, 64-65; Yossi Melman, reports in Haaretz, 18, 30 July 2003. [Hebrew}

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DR. MOSHE YEGAR joined the Israeli Foreign Service in 1956 and retired in 1995. He served, among other places, as consul-general in New York (1985-1988), ambassador in Stockholm (1988-1990), and ambassador in Prague (1993-1995). He is the author of three books on Islam in Southeast Asia and five books on various issues of Israel’s foreign policy. His most recent book (in Hebrew) is on the history of Israel’s diplomacy in Asia.