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Pakistan government denies any delegation went to Tel Aviv

Reported visit of top official to Israel sparks outcry in Pakistan

Pakistani commentators say envoy expressed Islamabad’s desire for closer ties with Jewish state, but warned cooperation would need to be ‘soft’ and ‘slow’ due to local opposition

Illustrative: Supporters of the Pakistani religious party Jamaat-e-Islami, participate in a rally to denounce the United Arab Emirates-Israeli deal to establish full diplomatic ties between the two countries, in Karachi, Pakistan, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)
Illustrative: Supporters of the Pakistani religious party Jamaat-e-Islami, participate in a rally to denounce the United Arab Emirates-Israeli deal to establish full diplomatic ties between the two countries, in Karachi, Pakistan, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

An adviser to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Israel in late November and discussed moving toward better ties between the countries, which do not have formal relations, two prominent Pakistanis have claimed in recent days.

The Pakistani government denied the claims at the weekend, with the foreign ministry stating that “No visit has been undertaken by any Pakistani delegation to Tel Aviv.” Prime Minister Khan also reportedly told a TV interviewer that Pakistan will not recognize Israel until Palestinian rights have been guaranteed.

The claims from a Pakistani counterterror analyst and a UK-based political scientist who writes for a Pakistani newspaper have led to a backlash on Pakistani social media, with the country’s ruling party wading into the controversy to try and deflect blame toward the nation’s former ruler.

Their assertion came days after Israeli daily Israel Hayom reported that a top adviser from an unnamed Muslim-majority country visited Israel in late November for talks.

The claims could not be independently verified.

Noor Dahri, Executive Director of the UK-based Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism thinktank, detailed the alleged visit in a series of Twitter posts on December 15.

US President Donald Trump, right, meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the InterContinental Barclay hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

He said an unnamed close aide to Khan, who also has good ties with the Trump administration, was dispatched from Islamabad to Tel Aviv via London on November 20. There he supposedly met with several Foreign Ministry officials and conveyed Khan’s desire for closer relations between the two nations.

Islamabad wants Israel’s support in various international forums, including improving relations with Arab countries and its general international standing, Dahri said. But the aide stressed that any warming of ties would need to be “soft” and “slow” due to expected opposition within Pakistan.

Dahri said these overtures were “warmly welcomed” by the Israelis, who assured the aide they would make efforts on Pakistan’s behalf.

Dahri later told Israel’s i24 News that Pakistan had recently become increasingly isolated and had fallen out with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates over its close ties with Turkey, leading the Arab nations to increase pressure on Islamabad through demands for debt settling and curbs on oil supplies.

In November, the UAE banned issuing work visas for Pakistanis, a harsh blow to Islamabad. Millions of Pakistanis have worked in the UAE in recent years, sending back home several billion dollars a year.

“Pakistan is now in a very critical situation politically, economically and diplomatically,” he said.

Dahri’s claim received support from Shama Junejo, a political scientist at the University of Leicester and a columnist for popular Pakistani paper Daily Khabrain.

“I spoke with Pakistani military sources. They categorically denied… any such contact,” Junejo tweeted. “However, [Dahri] is absolutely right. I crossed check & My sources also confirmed the advisor travel to Israel on 20th Nov.”

Dahri also claimed that Pakistani officials had secretly traveled to Israel several times in the past, under the administration of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif, a politician herself, briefly tweeted Dahri’s interview with i24 News before deleting the tweet.

According to i24 News, the supposed normalization process has led to much anger by Pakistanis on social media.

Khan’s ruling PTI party tweeted: “Maryam Nawaz just exposed her father Nawaz Sharif. She tweeted a link (then deleted) to the interview of Noor Dahri where he says Nawaz Sharif as PM sent 2 delegations to Israel to normalize relations.”

It did not mention that Dahri also said Khan had done the same.

The reports come as Israel has announced normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco in recent months and officials have indicated that similar moves with other Muslim nations could be in the cards.

This is not the first time there has been speculation over Israeli-Pakistani meetings.

In October 2018, Pakistan denied reports that an Israeli jet had landed at an airport in Islamabad.

Israeli journalist Avi Scharf tweeted on Thursday that a private Israeli business jet had flown to Islamabad from Tel Aviv and remained in the Pakistani capital for nearly 10 hours, fueling media speculation.

Several Pakistani ministers and the Civil Aviation Authority denied the report.

Though Pakistan has in the past indicated it would be prepared to formalize its relationship with the Jewish state once there is a peace agreement with the Palestinians, ties between the two countries are often complicated.

There have been reports of covert contacts between Israeli and Pakistani officials, including a WikiLeaks document that indicated that a high-ranking official in the Pakistani army met directly with the Israeli Mossad.

Publicly, however, the two nations have little to do with one another. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly canceled a dinner reservation in 2016 at a New York restaurant to avoid eating at the same time as Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

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