ISLAMABAD - Pakistan should consider establishing ties with Israel, said exiled former president Pervez Musharraf, remarks likely to anger many in the country where he hopes to make a political comeback.
Musharraf, who resigned in 2008 in disgrace, has said he plans to return to Pakistan this month, despite possible arrest, in order to participate in a parliamentary election due by 2013.
On Sunday, he is scheduled to address a rally via video in Karachi, sources in his recently formed All Pakistan Muslim League said.
Speaking in favour of relations with Israel could make Musharraf more unpopular, especially among militants who made several attempts on his life with bombings because of his support for the US “war on terror” following the 9/11 attacks.
Those same groups want the destruction of Israel.
“There is nothing to lose by trying to get on Israel’s good side,” Musharraf told the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz in an interview carried on its website. “Pakistan also needs to keep readjusting its diplomatic stand towards Israel based on the mere fact that it exists and is not going away.”
That kind of talk could comfort Israel, which is increasingly nervous because Islamist groups opposed to the Jewish state have been making political gains in Arab states following revolts that brought down autocrats in the region.
Israeli officials were not immediately available for comment on Musharraf’s remarks.
Pakistan has been a staunch supporter of demands for a Palestinian state. Pakistan and Israel, however, have maintained covert contacts for decades, officials have said.
Many Pakistanis think Israel and the United States are constantly plotting against Pakistan. Musharraf, who came to power in a 1999 coup, said Israel’s influence in the United States and its relations with India can help Pakistan gain influence abroad.
The first public talks between Israel and Pakistan were held in 2005. They were described as a “huge breakthrough” by then Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, but sparked fury in Pakistan. “I felt I needed to test the waters in Pakistan when it comes to Israel,” Musharraf said. “We have been anti-Israel in Pakistan because of Palestine ... But I believe in realism and in assessing ground realities.”