It is now an established narrative in Pakistan, not a fringe opinion, that Israel not only helped India plan its military retaliation for a suicide bombing by Pakistan-based militants – but sent Israeli pilots to take part.
Dust might have settled on the Indian-Pakistani military skirmishes, initiated a fortnight ago, but the war of narratives is still ongoing between the two South Asian, nuclear armed, neighbors.
That means Pakistan’s conspiracy theorists have gone into overdrive, suggesting that Israel not only offered India moral support during the conflict spike – but actually sent its own combatants to strike Pakistan.
Addressing a rally on Saturday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi boasted about making “Pakistan cry” after the Indian Air Force carried out a strike ostensibly targeting camps of Jaish-e-Mohammad, the terror group which claimed last month’s suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Modi’s attempts to cash in on war-mongering ahead of general elections have become more transparent in the aftermath of India coming up short in the military clashes against Pakistan. Voices within India are questioning the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s claims of eliminating a terror camp, especially after facts have emerged disproving New Delhi’s version of the air battle.
For Pakistan, basking in a rare victory over India – military or moral – Modi’s pre-election war hysteria has provided a unique opportunity to earn diplomatic points with the rest of the world. This has prompted Prime Minister Imran Khan’s repeated invitations for Indo-Pak peace talks, a crackdown on Jaish-e-Mohammed along with other terror groups, and the historic decision to sack a minister for exhibiting anti-Hindu bigotry.
Even so, where Pakistan might have found an opening to showcase a progressive image to the world, the age-old “Jewish-Hindu” conspiracy theories have simultaneously reemerged.
It is now an established narrative in Pakistan, not a fringe opinion, that Israel helped India plan the air raid. Among those who have propagated this narrative is the progressive English daily, Dawn, which last week carried a report headlined, “India plotted dangerous attack with Israeli help,” citing an anonymous Pakistani government official who was not even properly quoted as evidence for the “Indo-Israeli plot.”
A section of the mainstream media even “unveiled” how an Israeli pilot was currently in custody in Pakistan. That theory has its flimsy roots in the contradictory statements given by the army spokesperson about the number of pilots captured by Pakistan.
Given that the captured Indian Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman and his release symbolized Pakistan’s magnanimity after getting the better of India in the military skirmishes, similar claims about an Israeli pilot would be seen as a symbolic triumph over Israel.
It is no coincidence that the conspiracy theories went into overdrive in Pakistan after Robert Fisk’s piece in The Independent in the immediate aftermath of the Indo-Pak air raids,with the screaming headline, “Israel is playing a big role in India’s escalating conflict with Pakistan.” The article’s only clear data points revolved around the burgeoning arms trade between India and Israel, and how both states confront Islamist terrorism.
But Fisk opened the door to conspiracists when he suggested that rather than a business transaction, the Israel tail was wagging the Indian dog: the weapons Israel supplied came with a side-order of Zionist contamination. In his words: “It is difficult to see how Zionist nationalism will not leach into Hindu nationalism when Israel is supplying so many weapons to India.”
The headline of the piece flashed across Pakistani news channels – not least when it was republished in Dawn – escalating into “reports” that the Indian jets attacking Pakistan had actually been piloted by Israelis.
This is not to dismiss the growing alliance between India and Israel under the two respective right-wing governments. In fact, an Israeli official’s declaration two years ago that there is “no difference between Lashkar-e-Taiba or Hamas” underlined how, for Israel and its supporters, India’s narrative over the Kashmir dispute has triumphed over Pakistan’s.
However, to suggest that the growing Indo-Israeli ties somehow translate into Israeli ploy to target Pakistan – without any tangible evidence – is the same as suggesting that Saudi Arabia was directly involved in the attack on India, given how it has long provided funds for the Pakistani army.
Using the same (non) logic, it would be possible to suggest the unlikely scenario that Tehran “officially” aligned with New Delhi against Islamabad, when Iran called out Pakistan over terror safe havens, at the very time that Pakistan was militarily engaged with India. The wild extent of the conspiracy theories can be gauged by the implication that Israel and Iran would somehow ally to join India, just to target Pakistan.
Intriguingly, the anti-Israel narrative has resurfaced at a time when there have been murmurs of Pakistan actually reconsidering its position on Israel.
On the sidelines of last month’s Munich Security Conference, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi expressed a desire to “normalize relations” with Israel, while speaking to the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv; he was quoted as saying, “We wish all the best for Israel, we have many friends in the region and we would like you to join them.” Former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf has recently echoed his position from a 2012 Haaretz interview urging Pakistan to establish ties with Israel “to counter India.”
These developments came after a tweet by Haaretz English editor Avi Scharf had sparked hysteria in Pakistan in October, with rumors abound that Benjamin Netanyahu had visited Islamabad. It resulted in a political crisis for Imran Khan, who has often been targeted by his detractors as a “Jewish agent” owing to his first marriage to Jemima Goldsmith, whose conversion to Islam didn’t persuade them she had shed her Jewish origins.
While any significant progress on Pakistan establishing formal ties with Israel might be unlikely any time soon, both countries are firmly in the same geopolitical camp. This was further delineated during Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s visit to Islamabad last month, which highlighted how Pakistan has formally aligned itself against Iran.
With the state gradually taking steps towards addressing Islamist bigotry against other religious groups, most notably Hindus, maybe it might eventually address the ubiquitous anti-Semitism.
It is this prevailing anti-Jewish bigotry that has resulted in Pakistan failing, or refusing, to recognize its many commonalities with Israel, with the two being the only two post-colonial states founded on religious nationalism.
However, progressive voices in Pakistan continue to hope that just like the state is seemingly readdressing its anti-Hindu narrative rooted in its communal foundations, eventually it would also be able to overcome the Islamist hegemony that continues to reaffirm anti-Semitism in the country.
Pakistan can play a more constructive role in both Palestine and Kashmir conflicts, which Islamabad has been vying to hyphenate, if it views them from a human rights perspective and not through a religious lens. However, that is only possible if Pakistan uproots its own Islamist inertia and longstanding disregard for human rights.
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