Last Thursday's "historic" meeting between Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri in Istanbul was immediately extolled by the local media as the "first fruits" of the disengagement from Gaza.
In his statement following the meeting Shalom said, "I wish to particularly thank President Musharraf for his courage in promoting peace and moderation in our region and in general."
In the midst of the hullabaloo about the the first public meeting between Israeli and Pakistani officials, it was hard to remember that Pakistan is the operational epicenter of the global jihad and a major proliferator of nuclear weapons technology and know-how to Iran.
Only recently, CIA director Porter Goss effectively said that US intelligence is certain that Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan. Goss explained that the US is unable to apprehend the arch-terrorist due to "sovereignty issues," – that is, Pakistan isn't cooperating.
It is unclear how Pakistan is "promoting peace and moderation" when terror training camps are operating openly in several provinces of the country. The suicide bombers who struck in Bali, in London and at Mike's Place in Tel Aviv, like the terror cell members apprehended in New York state and Virginia, underwent either indoctrination or training, or both, at al-Qaida camps in Pakistan.
In recent months, Taliban fighters have reentered Afghanistan from the Pakistan border areas. They arrived refreshed, retrained and well-armed and have been responsible for the killing of dozens of US troops and hundreds of Afghans in recent months. Pakistan's refusal to make any concerted efforts against the vast terror infrastructure openly and conspicuously operating on its territory led even The New York Times to publish a scathing editorial last month attacking Pakistan and its dictator "President" Musharraf, for refusing to take action against the Taliban. As the Times noted, "Musharraf seems to invest far more energy in explaining his government's tolerance of Taliban activities than he does in trying to shut them down."
Last March, Pakistan's information minister, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, acknowledged that Pakistan, through its nuclear witch-doctor A.Q. Khan's nuclear Walmart, had provided centrifuges to Iran. At the same time, Ahmed reiterated Pakistan's abject refusal to allow any foreign government to interrogate Khan stating, "We are not going to hand over Dr. Qadeer to anyone. We will not."
EXPERTS ON Pakistan readily acknowledge that on most levels, Pakistan is a failed state. It has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. Most children who do go to school receive an average of five years of education. As of last year, the Pakistani government invested a paltry two percent of its GDP in education and has taken no effective action against the large network of madrassas in the country responsible for jihad indoctrination of hundreds of thousands of Pakistani youngsters.
Aside from this Pakistan exercises no effective sovereign control over large swathes of its territory. The high-profile arrests and renditions of senior al-Qaida terrorists like the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and assaults on terror-ridden provinces seem to occur, as Timothy Hoyt of the US Naval War College noted in an online symposium on Pakistan, "at very convenient times for US-Pakistan relations," such as before or after the visits of senior US officials to the country.
Given this dismal state of affairs, the question should be raised: What does Israel have to gain from bestowing undeserved praise on Pakistan's rulers? There are two apparent answers to this question. One is constructive but unlikely, while the more probable alternative raises serious concerns about the priorities of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government and those of the Bush administration today.
ACCORDING TO a report by Asia Times, the Iranian regime was distraught over the meeting. The paper quoted a source close to the government of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who referred to the Iranian leaders as being "shocked to the point of being choked off."
If embracing Pakistan is part of a larger plan to internationally isolate Iran, then there is a strategic logic to holding the meeting.
At the same time, the fact is that Britain's Foreign Minister Jack Straw told journalists last Friday: "Nobody is proposing military action in regard of Iran. This is an issue that needs to be resolved and can only be resolved, by diplomatic means."
Taken together with the dubious American assertion that there is no need to worry about the Iranian nuclear program for the next decade, it is reasonable to rule out the optimistic view that the international community is working to encircle Iran. In light of Pakistan's refusal to allow US intelligence officials access to Khan, it is impossible to believe that Israel would receive any valuable intelligence cooperation from Islamabad as a result of its embrace of Musharraf.
The second explanation of the meeting is more worrisome. News reports of it claimed that the Bush administration was the primary architect of the summit which the Israeli press effusively praised as the result of the expulsion of the Jews of Gaza and northern Samaria.
On Sunday, The New York Times reported that the Bush administration is going to great lengths to buttress Sharon to help him avert the calls for early primaries for the head of the Likud, which polls indicate he will likely lose. While Sharon ally Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert acknowledges that the government's refusal to strengthen Jerusalem's eastern borders is the result of US pressure, a senior Bush administration official explained to the Times that at next week's UN General Assembly meeting the administration will "be saying to anyone who asks us, that if your goal is Israeli-Palestinian progress, you're not going to get there by misunderstanding the Israeli political situation."
As with the bizarre 1996 summit of "peacemakers" in Sharm e-Sheikh choreographed by then president Bill Clinton in an attempt to shore up domestic support for then prime minister Shimon Peres in the lead-up to his failed election bid against Binyamin Netanyahu in the same year, the Shalom-Kashuri meeting can be seen as a return of Clinton's policy of heavy-handed interference in Israel's domestic politics, undertaken with the express aim of strengthening the forces of appeasement in Israel's body politic.
Today, the Bush administration seeks to bolster Sharon's standing among Likud voters. This it does by both delaying public pressure for further expulsions, and by exploiting the Israeli media's love of summitry and Sharon's weakness to confer legitimacy on one of the most active enablers of global jihad in the world.
DURING HIS visit to the US for the General Assembly meeting next week, Musharraf is scheduled to speak with the American Jewish Congress. For the Pakistani dictator this is a major breakthrough. In recent years more level-headed Jewish groups, like the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and the American Jewish Committee, have been actively engaging both the Indian government and Indian-American organizations in order to lobby the US Congress and the Bush administration to embrace the Indo-Israel alliance for the inestimable contribution it makes to the global war against terrorism.
By providing Musharraf's jihad-supporting government with a cheap photo-op, Israel is undercutting this work by conferring legitimacy on a regime that poses a danger to it through its nuclear proliferation activities, and a strategic threat to our Indian allies. At the same time Israel is helpi
ng the administration to convince a skeptical Congress of the value of the dubious benefits of the Bush administration's stubborn embrace of Musharraf, despite his refusal to act effectively to either stem his country's nuclear proliferation or combat and destroy the vast terror infrastructure that operates openly throughout his country and is used against US forces in Afghanistan.
In light of all of this, perhaps the local media was correct in proclaiming the Shalom-Kasuri meeting "the first fruits" of disengagement. We reap what we sow. When we sow defeat and surrender, we reap its bitter fruits. In this case, we have built upon our gift of Gaza to the Fatah-Hamas alliance by strengthening al-Qaida's best friend.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.