Relations with Israel: Can Pakistan Learn from China and Turkey?

UAE  and  Bahrain followed Egypt and Jordan in recognizing Israel that has been continuously oppressing Palestinians. Saudi Arabia may soon join them, leaving Pakistan badly exposed to international arm-twisting through economic tools.

Posted on 12/1/20
By Imtiaz Gul | Via Matrixmag.com
(Courtesy Wikimedia Commons0
Two of Pakistan’s best friends – China and Turkey maintain both diplomatic and trade relations with Israel. China is in fact Israel’s third-largest international trading partner, and the largest in East Asia. China’s investments in Israel since 2015 or so have totaled at least $ 17 billion. Chinese companies are helping out the Jewish state in the construction of the Haifa Port – also used by the US Marines, expansion of an airbase, a  desalination plant Sorek-B as well as in nuclear and space technology. China, following the US ban on sensitive equipment for ZTE/Huawei, has imported semiconductors – key components in Artificial Intelligence – worth billions of dollars. Several dozen flights between Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing and Tel Aviv connect the two countries.

Mind you, China and USA are currently fierce competitors following the tariff war President Trump imposed on China. But it did not prevent Tel Aviv from opening up to Beijing and delivering sensitive semiconductors.

Turkey, the second-best Pakistan ally, maintains a $ 6 billion trade with Israel, making it the latter’s 6th largest trading partner. Although President Erdogan’s independent Middle East policy and his defense equipment deals with Russia have annoyed Trump, yet it did not stop Turkey from maintaining trade ties with Israel. Dozens of flights between Istanbul-Ankara and  Tel Aviv point to a vibrant commercial relationship, albeit both are politically somewhat estranged.

Pakistan’s third ally – Indonesia – the most populous Muslim nation and as vociferous in its support for the Palestinians as the former. Without formal diplomatic relations both maintain quiet trade and investment cooperation as well as tourism cooperation. In 2018, bilateral trade amounted to approximately $100 million despite significant Indonesian restrictions on direct commerce with Israel. Similarly, a steady stream of Israeli tourists visits Indonesia annually despite restrictions on visas, which they must obtain via Singapore.

In 2018/19, almost 38,000 Indonesian tourists visited Israel. A whopping 14,000 came from Malaysia, another ardent critic of Israel.

Now, UAE  and  Bahrain follow Egypt and Jordan in recognizing the state that has been continuously oppressing Palestinians. Saudi Arabia may soon join them, leaving Pakistan badly exposed to international arm-twisting through economic tools.

The suspension of work visas for Pakistani workers is one such tool that the UAE has applied in what appears to be economic blackmail of a country that gets about $ 4 billion annual remittances from the UAE alone. If Saudi Arabia were to also chart the same path, this could jeopardize another at least $5 billion annual remittances from the Kingdom.

Cumulatively, we might be dealing with about five million jobs that may be at risk just in case the UAE and Saudi Arabi join our best “friend” India in squeezing Pakistan out of their markets. This would automatically add to the massive unemployment that currently worries us all.

There is only one lesson that Pakistan can draw from best friends China, Turkey, Indonesia as well as from the “arch-rival” India; it is cold financial calculations that determine respective “national interests” and not emotionalism. Geo-politics – that evolves out of multi-, and bilateral relations –  knows no morality or principles. It is about stitching alliances of convenience as firewalls against economic blackmail.

“National interest demands minimizing the number of your enemies and focusing on economic development and consolidation.” This advice from the Chinese President Xi Jinping to our civil-military leadership has been part of their bilateral conversations since September 2018. Is Pakistan as a whole ready to follow this pragmatic approach or will it keep antagonizing everybody else – and thereby suffer ever more economic bleeding and isolation?

This article first appeared in Matrixmag.com. Click here to go to the original.

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