[Islamabad] Federal authorities this week sacked a national security correspondent with the state-run Pakistan Television Corporation who recently visited the Jewish state.
Ahmed Quraishi was part of a 15-member delegation of Pakistani expatriates who visited Israel earlier in May and met with the country’s President Isaac Herzog.
Marriyum Aurangzeb, the federal minister for information and broadcasting, while announcing Quraishi’s dismissal on Monday, said, “Quraishi has violated the service rules and regulations and he visited Israel in his personal capacity. No official intention was involved in his visit.
“Quraishi has been fired for his controversial trip to Israel,” she said. “There has been no change in Pakistan’s policy in support of Palestine; no policy change or action can be taken against the wishes of the people of Pakistan.”
Earlier, the Foreign Office also categorically rejected the notion that any delegation from Pakistan visited Israel. “The visit was organized by a foreign-based NGO,” Asim Iftikhar, the Foreign Office spokesperson, said.
“Pakistan’s position on the Palestinian issue is clear and unambiguous and there has been no change in Islamabad’s policy, on which there is a complete national consensus,” Iftikhar added.
Quraishi was fired after the Israeli president discussed his meeting with the delegation of expatriates, speaking during his address at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland on May 26.
Herzog said, “We haven’t had a group of Pakistani leaders in Israel in such scope, and that all stems from the Abraham Accords, meaning Jews and Muslims can dwell together in the region.”
He also said he was pleasantly surprised because no Pakistani delegation had ever visited Israel before.
The delegation, led by civil society groups American Muslim and Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council (AMMWEC) and Sharaka, visited Israel to promote interfaith harmony, primarily between Muslims and Jews.
In addition to Quraishi, the group also included Fishel Benkhald, a Pakistani Jew who is self-exiled, residing in the US, as well as other Muslims, and Sikhs and Christians.
Quraishi did not reply to Media Line requests for comment.
Israel and Pakistan have no diplomatic relations, despite other Muslim-majority countries having forged full ties with the Jewish state, including Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Turkey in the Middle East, Morocco in North Africa, and Azerbaijan, among others, in Central Asia.
Pakistan has been a firm supporter of demands for an independent Palestinian state.
Pakistani passports contain a clear warning that they are for all countries except Israel, but Quraishi and Benkhald were still able to enter Israel using their Pakistani passports.
The delegation included Pakistani-born Americans as well as people from other countries. Based in Washington, AMMWEC aims to “empower and enlighten Muslims and women of America to become a strong voice for all.”
Sharaka, which means “partnership” in Arabic, is a nongovernmental organization established in 2020 by young leaders from Israel, Bahrain, and the UAE after the signing of the Abraham Accords, “in order to turn the vision of people-to-people peace into a reality.”
The Israeli president’s remarks in Switzerland drew a strong reaction across Pakistan, and the government was compelled to clarify its position. Ultimately, anchorman Quraishi was fired.
Former Prime Minister Imran Khan accused the government of recognizing Israel.
While addressing a huge public gathering in Charsadda, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Khan claimed, “The rulers are a security threat to the country; they had been ‘tasked with recognizing Israel’ and compromising with India on the Kashmir issue.”
Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan of the Jamaat-e-Islam party strongly condemned the delegation’s Israel visit and told The Media Line, “We will resist creating a soft corner for Israel in the Senate and across the country as well.
“The citizenship of both Pakistanis who visited Israel must be revoked,” Mushtaq Khan demanded.
Senator Shahzad Waseem, the leader of the opposition in the chamber and a senior member of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, told The Media Line, “When it is written on Pakistani passports that they are not valid to travel to Israel, how can an anchorperson of state TV visit Israel without the intention of the government.
“This government has been imposed on Pakistan merely to please the United States and Israel,” Waseem added.
Dr. Nimrod Goren, president and founder of Mitvim − The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, told The Media Line, “While Israel is working to advance the normalization process with the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco, and to broaden the fields of cooperation with Egypt and Jordan, it is also interested in establishing relations with additional Arab and Muslim countries.
“In its first year in office, the Israeli [Bennett-Lapid] government made efforts in that direction, and different countries, including Pakistan, were occasionally mentioned in that regard throughout the last months,” he continued.
“Such processes are slow and gradual, and often take place behind closed doors,” Goren carried on. “A visit of civilian delegations from regional countries to Israel is a good step toward increasing acquaintance and setting the stage for positive progress. They should be encouraged, despite the sensitivities involved.”
Safiullah Gul, a Peshawar-based political and regional conflict expert, told The Media Line, “In the past, too, there was some maneuvering to establish relations between Pakistan and Israel, but the pressure from the people of Pakistan did not let it happen.
“There were also some unverified reports that some Arabs were playing a role to bring the two countries closer,” he said.
“Now in the current chaotic political situation [in Pakistan], it would be very difficult for Islamabad to openly and officially announce the lifting of an embargo vis-à-vis visas [to visit Israel], as former Prime Minister Imran Khan is playing the anti-US and anti-Israel card in his endeavor to force the ruling political conglomerate to dissolve assemblies and announce early elections in Pakistan,” Gul added.
“The revelation by the Israeli president about meeting with Pakistani nationals provides another slogan for Imran Khan to use at his rallies,” he said.
“The current government is under immense financial pressure and critics do say that the coming IMF [International Monetary Fund] bailout may be linked to either a nuclear program rollback or recognition of Israel, which will be the toughest decision,” Gul said.
Dr. Azeem Khalid teaches international relations at COMSATS University Islamabad. He told The Media Line, “Pakistan, since the beginning, has had a strong religious affinity and connection with the Palestinian cause.”
“This trip of Quraishi along with some expatriates is not a unique event. We need to understand a pattern here,” he continued. “Under General [Pervez] Musharraf [president of Pakistan from 2001 to 2008], Nawaz Sharif [prime minister for three nonconsecutive terms], and even during Imran Khan’s tenure [as prime minister in 2018-2022], there had been reports of secret meetings between representatives of both countries, but they were always officially denied. Here in this episode, the pattern of the state’s reaction is the same as before,” he noted.
Khalid further added, “The present domestic political scene has aggravated and scandalized the trip to the next level.”
“Irrespective of the fact that it was a personal or unofficial tour, no Pakistani government can afford to grant Israel de jure recognition or establish any formal ties with the Israeli government,” Khalid said.
Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based South Asia expert, told The Media Line, “In the last months of Khan’s tenure in office as prime minister, there had been some tentative talks about potential diplomatic breakthroughs between Pakistan and Israel. Indeed, some academics and journalists have even appeared to be working on this issue or advocating for it in public.
“Since Khan left office [in April], the country seemed to have different priorities in general, such as restoration of a stronger relationship with Saudi Arabia, and efforts to return to a better relationship with the US while continuing to benefit from financially lucrative relations with China as well. Meanwhile, this latest trip forced a reckoning with the Pakistani officials, who had no choice but to confront the reality and react by taking a position,” she added.
“It is safe to presume, given the political climate in Pakistan, that these efforts had all the blessings of someone in the government and were testing the waters to see what could be done in terms of putting this issue in the public eye,” she continued.
“The idea of normalization seemed remarkably unlikely even at that stage given that Pakistan had not made any serious domestic reforms that would have made this possibility ideologically acceptable in most circles,” Tsukerman said.
Written by Imran Khan and reprinted with permission from the Media Line.