Pakistan to send delegation to Israel after talks

Pakistan plans to send a delegation to Israel following historic talks on Thursday between their foreign ministers, but it still does not recognise the Jewish state, President General Pervez Musharraf said.

Speaking to reporters in the south-western Pakistani city of Quetta, Musharraf said the talks held in Istanbul, Turkey, between Kursheed Kasuri and his Israeli counterpart, Silvan Shalom, were “the first formal contact between our two countries”.

“But this in no way means that we are recognising Israel. We will not recognise Israel until it resolves the Palestinian issue. This is absolutely not to recognise Israel,” Musharraf said.

Pakistan is a Muslim country and in the past has taken a harder line against Israel than even some Arab countries, but was encouraged to meet the Israelis following Israel’s evacuation of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip, which was completed last week.

“We should change our policies in accordance with the international environment and we should be a far-sighted nation,” Musharraf said.

Islamic hard-liners, however, condemned the talks in Turkey and accused the government of succumbing to United States pressure and engaging Israel without telling Parliament.

“The Pakistani nation, openly and collectively, condemns this unfortunate meeting, which the foreign minister has held with a representative of the Jewish occupier of Palestinian land,” said Qazi Hussain Ahmed, chief of Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, an opposition coalition of six Islamic parties.

“We will oppose, with full force, any step that is taken toward recognising Israel,” he said.

The secular Pakistan Muslim League-N opposition party also raised objections, saying the meeting was “premature and will hardly yield positive results”.

Musharraf said Pakistan will send a delegation to al-Quds—Jerusalem—“where it will be welcomed by Palestinians and Israelis”, but gave no further details.

Musharraf has angered Pakistani opposition groups by calling for a debate on whether Pakistan should recognise the Jewish state, and has courted further criticism by agreeing to speak at a Jewish interfaith conference in New York later this month.

Pakistan backs the Palestinians’ call for an independent state, and demands that Israel pull out from the Palestinian territories under its occupation.

Riaz Mohammed Khan, Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary, told reporters the meeting in Turkey was “essentially a gesture to Israel to underscore the importance that we attach to the end of Israeli occupation of Gaza and to the Middle East peace process”.

He said that on Tuesday, Musharraf had informed Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah about the planned talks.

“The two leaders welcomed this step as a helpful initiative,” he said.

Dawn newspaper reported that representatives from Israel and Pakistan had been secretly holding talks for the past several months through diplomatic and “informal channels”.

Another Pakistan foreign ministry official said full diplomatic relations with Israel aren’t imminent but Thursday’s meeting will help gauge public reaction in Pakistan.

“They are moving slowly ...
First they want to end the taboo” of discussing relations with Israel, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to journalists.—Sapa-AP

Associated Press writer Naseer Kakar in Quetta contributed to this report

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