The three most popular articles on Dawn, Pakistan’s most popular English newspaper, this Wednesday, related to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Israel visit. That level of interest, and its frequently conspiracist turn, isn’t surprising for anyone familiar with popular Pakistani narratives on most issues, domestic or foreign.
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That a ‘Zionist-Hindu’ conspiracy is behind most of Pakistan’s problems is an idea held by many of the country’s officials, and that the jihadists targeting the state are actually Jews or Hindus, a popular conspiracy theory.
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That the Indian intelligence agency’s Research & Analysis Wing is trying to enforce radical Islam through these jihadist groups, is the implied narrative of the Pakistani state, which stresses that the likes of Taliban are funded by India and linked to the Mossad as well.
The Pakistani Defense Minister issued a nuclear threat to Israel last year over a fake news report, and it isn’t uncommon for state officials to highlight proximity to Israel as a feature of its nuclear-capable ballistic missiles’ reach.
It is under this backdrop that the mainstream news channels have been busy underlining the ‘joint Indian-Israeli plot to destroy Pakistani nuclear weapons’ or Israel’s long-held desire to ‘rule the world’ with New Delhi’s help, as the actual reason behind Modi’s visit.
While some English publications covered the Israeli foreign ministry’s recent statement that there was ‘no difference between Lashkar-e-Taiba or Hamas’, the mainstream media, especially the popular Urdu publications, interpreted the Israel: India alliance against terrorism as a hostile Israeli declaration against Pakistan.
With Pakistani nationalism deemed synonymous with Islam, and perpetuated as such in school curricula, the Modi-Netanyahu meeting was commonly characterized as a ‘declaration of war against Islam’ in the Pakistani media and among mainstream opinion makers as well.
While the conspiracy theorists are interpreting the meetup as the formal Indo-Israeli announcement of the ideological – and nuclear – war against Pakistan and Islam, the more realistic discussion on developments in Tel Aviv has centered around the arms deals between the two states, which of course have direct strategic implications for Pakistan.
Where the realists and conspiracists overlap is in delineating the commonalities in the Modi and Netanyahu-led governments, and the occupations of Kashmir and Palestine respectively. Underscoring the ‘troika’ of Trump, Modi and Netanyahu and their ‘anti-Muslim agendas’ is also an area in which the two camps find common ground.
Even though the Israeli Defense Force’s actions are often used to create a false equivalence between Zionism and Islamism among the progressive circles in Pakistan, the critique of state brutalities in Kashmir or Palestine is mostly based on genuine human rights concerns among the liberal opinion-makers.
Pakistan is among the 31 states that don’t recognize Israel. While the liberal sections of the population, and those representing the country overseas, would have you believe that this is owing to the occupation of West Bank and Gaza – which doesn’t explain the refusal to recognize Israel between 1948 and 1967 –popular opinion in the country is against Israel’s right to exist.
Like most Muslim countries, this sentiment is rooted in the prevailing anti-Semitism in the country, which is inherent to Islamism – an ideology which dominates Pakistani policymaking. This is why yahoodi, the Urdu word for Jew, is a common slur in the country, and yahoodi saazish (Jewish conspiracy) a ubiquitous two-word explanation for most of its ills.
The irony in Pakistan’s ideological position on Israel is that these are the only two post-colonial states founded on religious nationalism. This is what has prompted arguments in favor of Pakistan reviewing its stance on Israel being published in the local media as well.
This, however, remains a fringe opinion even in liberal circles, with support for Pakistan’s ties with Israel being deemed synonymous with ignoring the Palestinian plight – although no such sensitivity is on display for Tibetans, Turkestanis, Cypriots or Kurds, with China and Turkey among Pakistan’s closest allies.
This taboo on diplomacy with Israel, coupled with prevailing anti-Semitism and ensuing conspiracy theories, have ensured that any meetings between officials of the two states have remained behind the scenes.
In 2012, former president Pervez Musharraf said in an interview with Haaretz that ‘relations with Israel could help Pakistan’. It was Musharraf’s foreign minister Khursheed Kasuri’s meeting with his Israeli counterpart in 2005 that remains the only publicly acknowledged talks between the two states.
But while the then mulling of diplomatic ties with Israel might’ve been a corollary of Pakistan firmly being in the U.S. camp, Washington’s recent snubbing of Pakistan and the growth of its relations with New Delhi, seemed to have closed that particular window for Islamabad, which has put all its bets on Beijing.
Even so, with Pakistan militarily spearheading the Saudi ‘Islamic’ coalition aligned against Iran, Tel Aviv and Islamabad’s interests in the Middle East shouldn’t clash. But the growing Indo-Israeli defense ties, and conflation of militancy affecting the two states, could mean Pakistan upping the ante vis-à-vis Palestine, as a global vehicle for its Kashmir narrative – especially among the Arab states.
This should mean ‘Zionist-Hindu conspiracies’ skyrocketing in the near future.
Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a Pakistan-based journalist and a Correspondent at The Diplomat. His work has been published in The Guardian, The Independent, Foreign Policy, Courrier International, New Statesman, The Telegraph , MIT Review, and Arab News among other publications. Twitter: @khuldune