Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri said his country has had secret contacts with Israel for at least the past decade, the Pakistan News Wire reported Tuesday.
According to the report, Kasuri made the remarks following a meeting of the Pakistani Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee in Islamabad on Monday.
The report quoted Kasuri as saying that his handshake with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom during their September 1 meeting in Istanbul last week had marked the first time that a Pakistani official had shaken hands with a representative of Israel.
The statements from Kasuri come as Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf plans to address Jewish leaders later this month during his visit to New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly. Musharraf has been a frequent target of Islamic extremists bent on assassinating him, especially after his decision to help the United States fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
In the past, reports of possible Pakistani-Israeli ties drew swift and wide condemnation from many circles in Pakistan. Not this time.
“This was a major step for the Pakistan government,” said Teresita Schaeffer, director of the South Asia program at Washington’s Center for Strategic & International Studies. “The reaction in Pakistan has been remarkably muted. The Islamic parties opposed it, of course, but the rest of the country has said very little. Pakistanis can get very excited about anti-Palestinian violence, but apparently contacts with Israel, especially when the TV sets are not showing pictures of Palestinians being the victims of violence, have become acceptable.”
She cited three main motivations behind the move: the Pakastani government’s desire to demonstrate to America its willingness to buck Islamic parties, to acknowledge the Gaza disengagement and, possibly, to make Israel think twice about its rapid increase in military and security relations with India.
The meeting between Kasuri and Shalom was the first publicly acknowledged high-level meeting between representatives of the predominantly Muslim Pakistan and the Jewish state.
Kasuri told journalists Monday that he had briefed the committee in full about his meeting with Shalom and that it had not yet been decided whether a meeting between Musharraf and Prime Minister Sharon would take place.
The Pakistani Foreign Ministry said last week that Musharraf had no plans to meet Sharon during his visit to New York this month to attend the United Nations General Assembly. But Shalom said last week that he and Kasuri had discussed the possibility of such a meeting.
The Pakastani foreign minister said the talks with his Israeli counterpart, which came in the wake of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza last month, did not constitute Pakistani recognition of Israel.
Only after the creation of a “sovereign Palestinian state” would Pakistan consider establishing formal relations with Israel, Kasuri said.