Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Business Recorder editorial July 5, 2017

India-Israel honeymoon After Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Washington where US President Donald Trump accorded him a warm welcome, it was now the turn of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to roll out the red carpet for the first formal state visit by an Indian premier. And what a roll out. The entire Israeli cabinet turned up to receive Narendra Modi, Prime Minister Netanyahu was to accompany him throughout his stay, and although Modi paid his respects at the Jewish holocaust memorial, he skipped the customary meeting with the Palestinians. Diplomatic ties between India and Israel were established in 1992 under the government of Narasimha Rao. Since then, there has been a steady expansion of ties. Modi’s visit now promises to accelerate cooperation to include defence and military supplies, trade, air routes, agriculture and energy. Most significantly, both sides underlined the common threat from terrorism and a joint fight against it. Israel feels ‘threatened’ by the Palestinians, India by the struggle in Kashmir. Israeli intelligence and counterinsurgency capabilities are well known. Any such Israeli role in Kashmir is bound to have repercussions for Pakistan. Defence deals of around $ one billion a year have been one of the fruits of the growing friendship between India and Israel. This has allowed India to obtain the latest US weapons technology. Now defence cooperation will receive a boost from deals such as state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries’ $ two billion sale of an advanced defence system of medium-range surface-to-air missiles, launchers and communications technology. This largest ever defence contract for Israel Aerospace Industries could affect Pakistan’s quest for a credible deterrent, disturbing the current strategic stability of the region. There is also talk of a $ 500 million deal for 8,000 Spike anti-tank missiles. The proposed free trade agreement between the two countries could boost the current level of trade of about $ two billion a year to $ 20 billion. A Delhi-Mumbai-Tel Aviv air route is contemplated. India’s deft diplomacy has earned it warmth and benefits in both Washington and Tel Aviv of late. The seal has been put on abandonment of the Palestinian cause by India through this visit and the symbolic but clear snub to the Palestinian leadership. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei seems to have been responding to Modi’s handing Israel ‘a great diplomatic victory’ by speaking up about the Kashmiri struggle. Surely the timing was not fortuitous. Geopolitical shifts in the world are seeing old established positions being abandoned (as in the case of India vis-à-vis the Palestinians), new alignments coming into play, and uncertainty attending these changes. It is a matter of concern then that Pakistan seems oblivious of these tectonic shifts and their implications for its interests and security. One obvious gap is the absence of a full time foreign minister, who could track and address the rapidly changing geopolitical landscape. Perhaps because of this, Pakistan’s foreign policy seems lacklustre, bogged down in the same old tired script and lacking an intelligent response to the new emerging challenges in the region and beyond. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government may be distracted by the ongoing Panama Papers case, but the time and tide of regional and world affairs will wait for no one. It is time to understand and address the serious implications of India’s receiving such warmth and favours from Washington and Tel Aviv before unforeseen events overtake us.

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