Activists of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) Pakistan take part in a protest rally against the agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalize diplomatic relations, in Karachi on August 16, 2020. Photo: AFP / Rizwan Tabassum

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Martin Luther King Jr

A debate regarding establishing relations with the State of Israel has once again entered political discussions in the South Asian region. Some say establishing strategic and diplomatic relations with Israel would really not pose any downsides, whereas the opposing side of the debate regards this as an unfavorable move ideologically and politically. 

Several Arab countries have established diplomatic ties with Israel, which had already maintained full diplomatic relations with two of its Arab neighbors, Egypt and Jordan, after signing peace treaties in 1979 and 1994 respectively.

In 2020, the US government oversaw the signing of agreements between Israel and Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Morocco. Given these facts, questions are being asked: If Arab countries are moving ahead with the recognition of Israel, what is stopping Pakistan and Bangladesh from doing the same? 

Pakistan 

Pakistan finds itself in a complex and delicate situation. It is being pressured, notably from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to recognize Israel while simultaneously, it is aware that since its inception, it has supported the rights of Palestinians. The essential question here is: Are diplomatic ties with a nation while calling out its gross human-rights violations mutually exclusive? The answer is no. 

Pakistan has always objected to the human-rights violations committed by India in Kashmir. This is the most consequential bone of contention between Pakistan and India and from all expert accounts, if the two countries ever launched a nuclear war, it would most likely be over Kashmir. Yet they maintain diplomatic and trade ties. It would therefore not be invalid to ask why Pakistan cannot maintain the same relationship with Israel.

The pressure exerted by some of the Arab countries to do exactly that is a concern, considering that since 1973, Pakistan’s gross domestic product has benefited from billions of dollars contributed by its migrant workers in the oil-rich Arab countries. As a developing economy, joining in an alliance with those nations and with Israel and, in the process, expanding trade could not be such a bad thing, right? 

That is one way of looking at it. 

The other, palpable, heart-wrenching facet of the matter is human rights. True, Pakistan maintains diplomatic ties with India regardless of its authoritarian policies in Kashmir, violating even United Nations Security Council Resolution 47. But India and Israel present two different situations. 

Pakistan and India are neighbors, both have nuclear arsenals, and they share a history, language and culture that date back centuries. An outright freeze of diplomatic ties with India would destabilize the entire region of South Asia and present perils that could result in global disaster. 

India is the tormentor to Kashmiris in Kashmir. Not that this fact makes matters any less grave, but it does present a different set of problems when a country blatantly practices segregation, no less infamous than the apartheid in South Africa until 1991, as Israel does to the Palestinians.

Palestinian residential and farm lands are shrinking daily because of the illegal expansion of Israeli occupation. There are also arrests and torture committed by Israeli forces against Palestinians. All this happens with the blessings of the United States, which alone gives almost $4 billion in military aid to Israel per year and $8 billion of loan guarantees.

Add to this aid from Europe and now Arab countries, for a nation carved out of Arab lands only in 1948, and that has since become a prime human-rights abuser. 

Despite this, should Pakistan establish diplomatic ties with Israel? With China’s friendship, backing and massive infrastructure projects in Pakistan, does it really need to legitimize Israel at the behest of Arab countries and at the expense of Palestinian blood?

Bangladesh

Israel was one of the first nations to recognize Bangladesh after its independence in 1971. However, Bangladesh has not returned the favor. Like Pakistani passports, the Bangladeshi passport specifically states that it is valid for all countries except Israel. 

Historically, the first president of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, also known as The Father of the Nation, was very vocal about the rights of Palestinians. It is one of the few nations that still maintains its position as a strong proponent of Palestinian rights, regardless of any external pressure that may be exerted to change its course with relation to Israel by the Arab counties. 

Furthermore, Bangladesh has not forgotten that Israeli arms and military technology sold to Myanmar were used against the Rohingya people of Rakhine state, creating another enormous global human-rights crisis. Since 2017, more than a million Rohingya have fled torture and persecution by the Myanmar Army into Bangladesh.

The country now struggles to cope with Rohingya refugees who are left in limbo because of a colossal human-rights crisis aided by Israel. Will the Bangladeshi government, despite Israel’s dismal abuses of Muslims, normalize relations with it? It is highly doubtful. 

In essence, the question is: If everyone turns their backs on the Palestinians, what will become of them? And the Kashmiris? And the Rohingya? And the Yemenis? Should human-rights abuses suffered merely for being Muslim be normalized by the West, and even Muslim-majority countries?

Sabria Chowdhury Balland

Sabria Chowdhury Balland is a political analyst focusing on the politics of the US and Bangladesh in international publications. She is the co-author and editor of Bangladesh: A Suffering People Under State Terrorism (Peter Lang, 2020), A former elected member of the US Democratic Party Abroad, she is currently a board member of The Right to Freedom, a Washington-based non-profit organization working toward peace and democracy in Bangladesh.