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Abkhazia- Syria relations: Towards a Domino Effect with Belarus and North Korea?

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Source: sputnik-abkhazia.ru

Following Syria’s diplomatic recognition of Abkhazia in 2018, Abkhazia opened its embassy in Damascus in October 2020, attesting to the strengthening of relations between the two sides. For Abkhazia, a territory partially recognized by the international community and diplomatically supported by Russia, this recognition opens new perspectives for enhancing its military and economic relations with the Middle East. Furthermore, it attests to a progressive opening up of the territory, as it is now recognized by a growing number of countries, in contrast to others that are struggling to achieve the same results, such as Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh.

The future of Abkhazia remains questionable, and the Abkhazia-Syria relations are more of a diplomatic victory for Moscow than for Sukhum (the de facto capital of Abkhazia). Nevertheless, this diplomatic advance marks a turning point and raises new challenges, notably that of a domino effect and the recognition of Abkhazia by other countries allied to the Kremlin, notably by Belarus and by North Korea.

Foreign policy of Abkhazia

At the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union, the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Abkhazia, part of Soviet Georgia, became de facto independent and benefited from Moscow’s support to survive in a fast-changing post-Soviet space. Although reluctant to acknowledge this new country from 1992 to 2008, Moscow proclaimed the recognition of Abkhazia as a full-fledged country in 2008, in retaliation to the U.S. and some EU member states decision to recognize Kosovo.

As a result, the recognition of Abkhazia is rooted in the interests of the Kremlin rather than in respect for the Montevideo Convention, and the subsequent countries that recognize Abkhazia seem to do the same, wishing to show their support for Moscow rather than out of interest in Abkhazia.

Recognition by Nauru, Nicaragua, Venezuela, as well as unrecognized countries such as Transnistria followed, but all these states are of minor interest to the authorities in Sukhum, who, due to the location of Abkhazia, must continue to rely on neighboring Russia.

In this context, Syria’s recognition in 2018 marks a turning point as it ends an absence of recognition by new states since 2009 (Venezuela) and pushes Abkhaz authorities to consider the re-opening of the Sukhum International Airport.

The consequences of the Syrian recognition in 2018 are significant, and two other countries have begun a rapprochement with Abkhazia—North Korea and Belarus—in part because of the Syrian initiative.

North Korea

Although Abkhazia does not necessarily wish to be recognized by North Korea, which would hamper its chances of gaining recognition by the Western world, relations between the two countries are growing, paralleling the Syria-North Korea relations.

In December 2017, the North Korean Chamber of Commerce contacted the then Abkhazian Prime Minister Gennadi Gagulia to discuss the possible settlement of North Korean workers in Abkhazia. Subsequently, an Abkhazian delegation visited Pyongyang (August 2018) and a North Korean delegation visited Sukhum (November 2018), thus strengthening the relationship between the two nations. According to the director of international affairs of the North Korean Chamber of Commerce, enterprises in the construction sector, food and textile industry, and logistics companies are interested in working with Abkhazia. In 2019, about 400 North Korean workers have settled in Abkhazia. This rapprochement suggests that recognition is increasingly likely.

Belarus

Belarus has consistently refrained from recognizing the territory, claiming that it is of little economic interest. But recent tensions between the West and Lukashenko suggest that Minsk may recognize Abkhazia to satisfy the Kremlin’s demands and to allow Belarusian citizens to travel to Abkhazia more easily if they have limited travel options in the future. As such, a train connection between Minsk and Sukhum is possible, providing an alternative to international flights.

Recognition of Belarus is an option to consider, and it would follow a similar pattern to Syria, a few years after Damascus.

The Sukhum Babushara Airport

The growing number of countries recognizing Abkhazia is pushing for the reopening of the international airport to welcome more tourists and strengthen trade relations. Since 1992, the airport has been dedicated to military activities but most of these are now at the Gudauta military airport, which has undergone significant changes since the 2008 recognition by Russia, and therefore Sukhum airport could re-open to international flights. Such initiative would allow tourists from countries with no direct border, such as Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru and Syria, to come to Abkhazia, considering the territory is a well-known tourist destination.

This could be a tremendous advantage for Abkhazia, as it would also mean that tourists from all over the world could come and have a stopover in a country that recognizes Abkhazia, like Russia. In effect, Chinese, Americans and French could now travel to Abkhazia via the countries that recognize the territory.

In July 2019, the leadership of Abkhazia issued a decree to open the “Vladislav Ardzinba Sukhum International Airport” for international flights.

Inside Syria’s relations with Abkhazia

Although Syria only recognized Abkhazia in 2018, relations between the two entities stretch back centuries, but have increased in 2008 when Syrian president Bashar al-Assad said that Damascus agrees “with the essence of the Russian position” regarding the Abkhaz conflict. In 2013, Abkhazia appointed a Representative of the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry in Syria, then in 2015, the Abkhaz Foreign Minister met the Syrian Ambassador to Russia, Riad Haddad, in Moscow to say that his government believes Syria will recognize Abkhazia as a sovereign country in the future.

The entente between the two sides was reinforced during the refugee crisis, when some Syrians of Abkhaz origin were allowed to travel to Abkhazia (500 Syrians remigrated to Abkhazia). This decision was in the interest of both Damascus and Sukhum, as Damascus was not able to ensure the safety of some Syrian citizens, and for Abkhazia as newcomers are welcome to compensate for the demographic decline in Abkhazia which has had a weak birth rate for several decades.

As a symbol of this rapprochement, in December 2016, the first match in freestyle wrestling between Abkhazia and Syria was held in Sukhum, and Abkhazia provided humanitarian assistance to Syria in August 2017.

This rapprochement culminated in November 2017 with a free trade agreement between Damascus and Sukhum, which led to the possibility of recognition the following year. Unlike other countries, the Syria-Abkhazia relations are more profound, with a physical proximity. Indeed, despite being recognized by Venezuela, for example, almost nobody from that part of the world have visited Abkhazia, while more than 500 people of Syrian origin are present in the territory. Moreover, there are numerous exchanges and bilateral meetings. In May 2021, the Abkhaz president Aslan Bzhania visited Syria on a state visit and met with Bashar al-Assad.

This friendly atmosphere can be explained by several factors, other than Moscow’s wish, and notably by the fact that Abkhazia is a country at the intersection of the Muslim and Christian worlds. As such, the Abkhaz flag symbolizes this union with white for Christianity and green for Islam, and the Abkhaz society integrates Muslims and their practices, which makes it a bridge between the Orthodox and Muslim worlds, allowing for the rapid integration of Syrians.

Russia’s involvement in the Syria-Abkhazia relations

The Kremlin was the main actor to support the recognition of Abkhazia by Syria, since this served its diplomatic interests, and continues to do so in many respects. In this respect, Russia’s military presence remains strong in Abkhazia, notably with the two bases of Ochamchire which provides for the activities of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) and the Gudauta base for the operations of the 7th Military Base.

While the Ochamchire facility is not of interest in the context of the Abkhazia-Syria relations, the Gudauta facility is different in that, due to the non-recognition of Abkhazia by Western countries, limited international supervision is possible on equipment coming from abroad or leaving the Gudauta airport. Therefore, if Moscow wishes, it can receive and send as much as it wants from this strategic point without having to justify it but to the Abkhaz authorities.

The secrecy surrounding the activities of the station in Gudauta and its connection with Syria is reinforced by the fact that a billboard depicting the good relations between Abkhazia and Syria is displayed near the military premises. There is also a significant amount of work carried out on the base, including the modernization of a football stadium, new fences, a well-mown lawn around the base, and careful management of the site, similar to that of the French Navy base at Seine-port in France. It is impossible to visit the base, nor to approach it via the land paths or the beach, the only vantage point is from the tall abandoned Soviet buildings in the nearby town. Unlike Ochamchire, where a conversation with the soldiers is possible in the vicinity of the barracks, the Gudauta site has a higher level of security, with the nearby restaurant being the only place to meet the soldiers who prefer not to talk about their duties.

While it is unclear to what extent the Kremlin interacts with Syria via the Gudauta facility, the presence of posters on the relationship between Abkhazia and Syria suggests that a connection exists.

In conclusion, the Syria-Abkhazia relations are born of Moscow’s determination, but are deeper than those between Venezuela and Abkhazia for instance. Furthermore, the recognition in 2018 opens the door to possible recognition by North Korea and Belarus, but more importantly to a resumption of international flights to Sukhum airport. If such a reopening were to take place, it would mean access to Abkhazia not only for the countries that recognize it, but also for all travelers willing to transit via Moscow, Caracas, Damascus or Managua. The opening-up of Abkhazia thus seems to be becoming a reality and leads to new questions, notably that of the position to be adopted by Western countries if they wish to continue to support Georgia and defend their approach in the South Caucasus.

From our partner RIAC

Ph.D. in History of Europe & International Relations, Sorbonne University - INSEAD Business School, (Geo)political scientist working on Sino-European/Russian relations and soft power in the 21st century

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China’s role to make FIFA 2022 Successful

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Image source: Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera

Argentina won the World cup in FIFA Football World Cup held on 20 November – 18 December 2022, in Doha Qatar. FIFA 2022 attracted global attention and since the beginning Foot Ball lovers spared time, either to travel to Qatar and watch the matches or sit in front of TVs and watch live transmission. Big LED screens were used to attract Foot Ball Lovers worldwide. It was really a festival mode in many countries. Analysis, Debates, and Arguments also took place, regarding the expected Champion. French was pretty sure to retain its previous title “World Champion” which they got in FIFA 2018, held in Russia. Brazil, Germany, Argentina, and many other nations were keeping high expectations. Even, though some were guessing that Morocco to be World Champion, strong arguments were given that in FIFA 2018, actually, the French team consisted of many Morocco-origin players, with very few original French. As a matter of fact, France has attracted good players from its former colonies and offered them immigration, and used them in FIFA 2018, to win the Championship. There was certainly a strong argument that if Moroccan can make France World Champion, they can also possess the potential to become World Champions.

The FIFA World Cup, often simply called the World Cup, is an international association football competition contested by the senior men’s national teams of the members of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the sport’s global governing body. The tournament has been held every four years since the inaugural tournament in 1930, except in 1942 and 1946 when it was not held because of the Second World War. The reigning champions are Argentina, who won their third title at the 2022 tournament. But the history goes back to Prior to the Lipton competition, from 1876 to 1904, games that were considered the “football world championship” were meetings between leading English and Scottish clubs, such as the 1895 game between Sunderland A.F.C. and the Heart of Midlothian F.C., which Sunderland won.

The World Cup is the most prestigious association football tournament in the world, as well as the most widely viewed and followed single sporting event in the world. The viewership of the 2018 World Cup was estimated to be 3.57 billion with an estimated 1.12 billion people watching the final match.

Seventeen countries have hosted the World Cup, most recently Qatar, which hosted the 2022 edition. The 2026 tournament will be jointly hosted by Canada, the United States, and Mexico, which will give Mexico the distinction of being the first country to host games in three World Cups.

It was a matter of great prestige and honor for Qatar to host FIFA 2022. It is the first World Cup held in the Arab world and Muslim world, and the second held entirely in Asia after the 2002 tournament in South Korea and Japan.

In 2010, the State of Qatar, having been awarded the rights to host the FIFA 2022 World Cup, embarked on remarkable projects in different fields to meet the expectations outlined in the bid document. It is worth mentioning that Qatar has a population of around 3 million and almost 1.5 million people from all over the world have visited FIFA 2022. A country’s preparations to host an international sporting event need serious consideration. Many aspects must have taken care of including but not limited to changing existing legislation, building infrastructure, workers’ rights and immigration, sponsorships, consumer protection, tourism, free trade, intellectual property (IP) rights, accessibility to stadia, taxation, counterfeiting, gambling, betting, to name but a few. Any country has to meet FIFA’s standards to host such an event. Qatar has the option of introducing new laws, amending existing legislation, and have concluded mutually beneficial bilateral agreements with FIFA. Qatar has directly employed more than 26,000 people to prepare the stadiums only. It is pertinent to note that in the wave of massive infrastructural developments legislation was not left out. Countries such as Russia and South Africa enacted new laws to meet FIFA’s standards and Qatar has also done similar measures to satisfy FIFA Organizing Committee.

The successful hosting of FIFA 2022, has projected and elevated Qatar in the global community, especially in the region. Direct and indirect, tangible and intangible impact of such a mega event will elevate Qatar’s stature and benefit its reparation in the days to come.

However, China was behind the success story as there were 10 ways in which China quietly worked behind the scenes at the Qatar World Cup:-

  • World cup buildings got green electricity from a next-generation power station that harvests only solar energy, built by the Power Construction Corporation of China.
  • People were taken where they need to go in a fleet of 888 fully electric buses, made by Yutong Bus, a Chinese firm that has quietly become, as far as I can tell, the world’s biggest bus maker.
  • The main stadium was built by China Railway Construction Corporation: a firm that pops up in Africa and Europe and around the planet, known for its extraordinary ability to create infrastructure in difficult environments.
  • What’s a sporting event without souvenir merchandise? It’s estimated that almost 70 percent of World Cup-related goods, from footballs to flags to jerseys to whistles, came from a single location in China, a southeastern city called Yiwu.
  • A purpose-built extra-large reservoir provided clean drinking water for sports people and fans. It was constructed by the Gezhouba Group, from Wuhan.
  • The stadium-building operations needed huge amounts of heavy equipment, from massive earth movers to cranes – nearly 100 of these were supplied by China’s Sany Heavy Industry, one of the world’s biggest construction firms.
  • The most innovative venue was Qatar’s Stadium 974, which can be disassembled and reassembled anywhere. Designed by a Spanish architect, the 974 building blocks were made by China International Marine Containers.
  • Notice all the LED floodlights everywhere? They came from the Unilumin Group of China.
  • Most people say air conditioners are a must for survival in that environment – and China’s Midea Co supplied 2,500 air cons for the event.
  • Last but not least, this was the most expensive sporting event in world history and needed a lot of support from businesses.
  • Nineteen China firms signed up to sponsor the event.

Definitely, credit goes to China too.

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The Chinese maritime theory of linking and networking the five seas in the Middle East

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What mattered most to China regarding its three joint summits at the end of December 2022 with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries and the region, was the deepening of Chinese influence and maritime cooperation, especially with regard to the maritime side, and the emphasis of Chinese think tanks and research on the need for the success of the idea (connecting or networking the five seas in the region), namely are:

(The Mediterranean, Black, Caspian, Persian Gulf and Red Sea)

 And that is with all that it entails politically, economically and socially to unify the efforts of the countries of these seas and achieve their interests, and thus confront the American and Israeli project that aims to fragment the region.

  In this context, the Chinese White Papers document on defense, issued by the Politburo of the ruling Communist Party of China in 2013, stressed the need to develop the “Chinese naval fleet” in order to “defend the near sea and protect the distant seas”.  China’s establishment of a Chinese military base outside its borders for the first time in the state of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, as well as the militarization of the Pakistani port of Gwadar, contributes to the growth of China’s military presence near important sea lanes in the region and the Arabian Gulf, especially in the Gulf of Aden and the Straits of Hormuz and Bab al-Mandab, and nearby  From the Arabian Gulf region.

  The Chinese-Saudi-Gulf summit comes with the expansion of China’s involvement in the Middle East region economically and diplomatically, and China’s attempt to deepen security cooperation.

 Likewise, with China and its intellectual and research centers officially announcing in August 2019, regarding China’s intention to participate in a Gulf maritime security alliance, the beginning of Chinese thinking about a deeper level of military participation in the Middle East.

 Chinese analysts believe that the alliance between China, Russia, the countries of the region, the Gulf, and Saudi Arabia in the face of the United States of America is getting stronger and more solid due to the impact of a “cold war” between the West and China, especially with the confirmation of Chinese Foreign Minister “Wang Yi” after the success of his tour in the Middle East.  Clear signs that China intends to shift to play a pivotal role in the affairs of the region.

  We cannot fail to emphasize the “Chinese approach to the Palestinian cause”, and its desire to play a pivotal role in that issue, and it is clear that China is launching something like a counter-diplomatic attack to penetrate the ranks of the allied countries of the United States of America in the Middle East and the Arabian Gulf, in addition to China’s attempt to form political alliances.  New ones to restrict US alliances in China’s regional and geopolitical strategic scope, such as the Okus nuclear defense agreement between Washington, Australia and Britain, and the Quad Quadruple agreement between the United States of America, India, Australia and Japan, to form a kind of bipolarity between China and Russia in the face of the United States of America.  We find that after the Corona pandemic, the world officially entered the second Cold War, this time between the West and China.

Accordingly, the future US policy in the Middle East is linked to what will be the Chinese behavior in the region.  With China’s attempt to rush to play new security roles, and seek hegemony in the Middle East and North Africa region.

 Likewise, China’s desire to strengthen the security and military aspect of its relations with the countries of the Arab Gulf, Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, by strengthening military cooperation and joint military exercises, and cooperation in combating terrorism, through comprehensive measures to address its roots.  In addition to the Chinese desire to cooperate with countries in the region to confront what is known as non-traditional security threats, such as supporting the region’s efforts to combat piracy, continuing to send warships to the Gulf of Aden and the coast of Somalia to maintain international maritime security, and cooperation in the field of cybersecurity.

  Therefore, the importance of these three joint Chinese-Gulf-Saudi summits is to greatly enhance China’s partnerships, economically, politically and commercially, with the countries of the region, especially in the Gulf region.  Therefore, China today is emerging as a central player through direct investments, partnerships, trade and development.

  Perhaps in the future, China will intervene militarily, or seek to have a security footprint in the region, as it did in the Horn of Africa through its military base in Djibouti.

   Also, given the American influence in the Arab Gulf region, Beijing may change its security policies in the region, if Washington tries to obstruct the flow of oil to China, especially in the event that Chinese energy security or vital shipping lanes used by China are threatened, China may have to expand  Its military naval presence in the Indian Ocean near the Persian Gulf.

  Accordingly, the declared clear Chinese strategy has become to transfer the arena of competition with the United States of America to the Middle East and Africa, in order to avoid strategic competition with Washington and its allies in its immediate regional neighborhood.  By analogy, the expansion of Chinese influence in the Middle East region is a challenge to the existing American hegemony.

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Jinnah, Iqbal, and Pakistan’s Historical Opposition to Israel

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Destruction in Gaza following an Israeli strike in May 2021. (file photo) UNOCHA/Mohammad Libed

There is a belief that Pakistan is solely opposed to Israel due to the latter’s post-independence atrocities against Palestine, which are attributed to the sizeable military mismatch between both Palestine and Israel – however this is not a complete picture. The reality is that Pakistan’s founders laid the groundwork for the nation’s pro-Palestine stance long before Pakistan or Israel gained independence. The founders were unequivocally opposed to a Jewish homeland fashioned at the expense of the Arabs. Due to such a robust foundation, one still sees the phrase “This passport is valid for all countries of the world except Israel” written quite unapologetically on the Pakistani passport. The founders adopted this posture due to them witnessing Britain’s exploitation of Arab Muslims, Britain’s reneging on promises to the Arabs, favoritism towards the Jews, and the global powers’ support of Zionism on Palestinian soil.

Two of Pakistan’s founding fathers and undoubtedly the most integral ones were Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Muhammad Iqbal. Pakistanis herald Mr. Jinnah as the father of the nation who overcame not only British imperialist designs, but also a Hindu-dominated Congress in India that was vehemently opposed to dividing the subcontinent. Mr. Iqbal, although he passed away before the independence of Pakistan, is credited as being the spiritual father of the nation. Popularly known as the Poet of the East, he uplifted Muslims of the subcontinent with his poetry and oration and dreamt of an independent Muslim homeland. Both Mr. Jinnah and Mr. Iqbal were pivotal parts of the All India Muslim League (AIML). The AIML was the primary political party safeguarding Muslim rights in British India, but during the 1920s the organization began taking a keen interest in global Muslim affairs as well.

Post-World War I

During World War I, the Ottoman Caliphate, which housed Palestine, was to be abolished and many of the territories of the once great empire were divided between the UK and France (see Sykes-Picot Agreement).

The British also reneged on certain promises after their triumph in WWI was assured. One of these was to the Emir of Mecca. To the Emir, they promised if the Arabs abetted Britain and France against the Ottomans, they would support the Arabs in self-rule (which the Emir envisioned as a pan-Arabic state from Aleppo in Syria to Aden in Yemen). One of the territories that the UK colonized was Palestine and thus began the age of Mandatory Palestine (1920-1948).

The Arabs and Muslims were betrayed, and in their stead, the Jews were supported. This was indicative by the Balfour Declaration in 1918 that promised British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. It was a correspondence between UK’s Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lionel Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community. The Balfour Declaration, conflated with Mandatory Palestine, made Muslims around the world cognizant of the profound implications of these events. As history would later reveal, the first seeds towards a Jewish homeland had just been planted.

The Muslim world was visibly dismayed by such machinations especially after undergoing the trauma of the Caliphate’s loss. Things continued to unfold tragically during the Arab Revolt in Palestine (1936-1939) that engulfed the region in violence. Seeing the British adopt ruthless measures to quell the Arab opposition, there was further Muslim uproar in India. In response, Mr. Jinnah in his presidential address to the AIML in 1937 stated, Great Britain has dishonored her proclamation to the Arabs – which had guaranteed to them complete independence of the Arab homelands…After having utilized them by giving them false promises, they installed themselves as the mandatory power with that infamous Balfour Declaration…fair-minded people will agree when I say that Great Britain will be digging its grave if she fails to honor her original proclamation…”

The AIML leadership continually passed resolutions in support of the Palestinians, protested in the streets, and sent their delegations to display solidarity with the Arabs. Mr. Jinnah, known to be unrelenting, continued also to verbally berate the harsh and illegal treatment of the Palestinians. He asserted, You know the Arabs have been treated shamelessly—men who, fighting for the freedom of their country, have been described as gangsters, and subjected to all forms of repression. For defending their homelands, they are being put down at the point of the bayonet, and with the help of martial laws. But no nation, no people who are worth living as a nation, can achieve anything great without making great sacrifice such as the Arabs of Palestine are making.”

In July 1937, the Peel Commission endeavoured to unearth the causes of unrest in Mandatory Palestine. The commission produced a report that recommended partitioning Palestine. This tragic recommendation for the Arabs, affixed with the immigration of Jews to Palestine exponentially rising during the third, fourth, and fifth aliyahs, traumatized the global Muslim psyche. In British Palestine, between 100,000-300,000, Jews immigrated to Palestine – a monumental demographic shift. The Jews also had for years bought and occupied Palestinian land marking a territorial shift in their favour as well.

The AIML protested against the British mandate and its anti-Arab policies, citing them as violating religious and human rights – thus warranting its abolition – but such proclamations fell on deaf ears. Miss Farquharson of the National League of England requested Mr. Iqbal’s views on the Peel Commission’s recommendations. Mr. Iqbal replied, “We must not forget that Palestine does not belong to England. She is holding it under a mandate from the League of Nations, which Muslim Asia is now learning to regard as an Anglo-French institution invented for the purpose of dividing the territories of weaker Muslim peoples. Nor does Palestine belong to the Jews who abandoned it of their own free will long before its possession by the Arabs.” The last sentence of the preceding unveils Mr. Iqbal’s view that Palestine was solely a Muslim issue – this emotion resonated with the Muslim masses of India and beyond. This sentiment is further highlighted by Mr. Iqbal’s statement in 1937 in an AIML setting, “The problem, studied in its historical perspective, is purely a Muslim problem…Palestine ceased to be a Jewish problem long before the entry of Caliph Umar into Jerusalem more than 1300 years ago. Their dispersion, as Professor Hockings has pointed out, was perfectly voluntary and their scriptures were for the most part written outside Palestine. Nor was it ever a Christian problem. Modern historical research has doubted even the existence of Peter, the Hermit. Even if we assume that the Crusades were an attempt to make Palestine a Christian problem, the attempt was defeated by the victories of Salah-ud-Din. I, therefore, regard Palestine as a purely Muslim problem.”

He espoused parallel thoughts in his poems as well, which were perhaps the most inspiring to the Muslims of India. His poem Sham-o-Falesteen (Syria and Palestine) poignantly proclaims:

Heaven’s blessing on those brazen Frenchmen shine!
Aleppo’s rare glass brims with their red wine.

—If the Jew claims the soil of Palestine,
Why not the Arab Spain?

Some new design must have inflamed our English potentates;

This is no story of oranges, honey or dates.

The second couplet is the most telling i.e. if Jews had a claim on Arab land because they were present there two thousand years ago, then the Arab Muslims certainly had a claim on Spain where they ruled for 800 years.

World War II

In 1938, Mr. Iqbal passed away before the onset of World War II but his message on Palestine was immortalized in his poems, statements, and speeches. The AIML continued to honor his legacy by not only pursuing the creation of Pakistan but also facilitating Palestine resolutely. When the war broke out, the British, characterizing shrewd but indignant behavior, cozied up to the AIML for their support in WWII. This was primarily because the Hindu-dominated Congress’ support was not forthcoming.

During the war, many pro-Palestinian actions were undertaken. For example on the AIML’s call, Palestine Day was observed on the 26th of August 1938 across the subcontinent. In 1939, Mr. Jinnah sent senior AIML members Ch. Khaliquzzaman and Abdur Rehman Siddiqui to meet with the Grand Mufti of Palestine to assist with the Palestinian issue. In July 1939, the British government prepared and issued a white paper unilaterally. The White Paper of 1939 called for the establishment of a Jewish home within an independent Palestinian state in the next 10 years and rejected the Peel Commission’s recommendations. In simpler words, it recommended a one-state solution for the Arabs and Jews. It also ordered that Jewish immigration be limited and would depend on Arab consent. Many Arab leaders thought such recommendations were untenable and rejected the proposal, as did the Jews. The latter became militant and incepted a violent campaign against the British.

Mr. Jinnah too was critical of the white paper – he criticized its recommendations and reiterated that the original promises made to the Arabs in WWI along with their demands should be honored. He wrote to Viceroy Linlithgow that the British “…should try and meet all reasonable national demands of the Arabs in Palestine as this was one of the prerequisites for AIML’s cooperation in the British war effort in India during 1939-40. Mr. Jinnah had also threatened “to call out the Muslim Ministries in the Provinces on the issue of British injustices towards Palestinians.

Mr. Jinnah also pledged his support to the Supreme Arab Council of Palestine. He ramped up the pressure domestically and reaffirmed to the British how important Palestine was spiritually for the Muslims. Furthermore, he created a “Palestine Fund” to raise and dispatch money for Palestinian families who lost their relatives in the struggle for freedom. Despite his constant struggle towards the creation of Pakistan, he remained adamant about the Palestinian cause as well.

Post-WWII: Creation of Pakistan and Israel

The post-war scenario looked bleak for the Palestinians. For the Indian Muslims too it was a difficult time due to the intensifying question of partition. Despite this critical juncture (around 1946) and the Indian Muslims requiring all their energy, Mr. Jinnah and the AIML did not vacillate vis-à-vis the Palestinian issue. On 20th April 1946, The Anglo-American Committee report was published – it recommended that 100,000 Jewish immigrants persecuted by Nazis be allowed to immigrate to Palestine immediately (among other things). Upon hearing such, Mr. Jinnah remarked that this was the “grossest betrayal of the promises made to the Arabs” and he was distraught at how the great powers had only leveraged the territory of Palestine to accommodate the Jews at the Arabs’ expense.

The Grand Mufti of Palestine Muhammad Amin-el-Husseni himself recognized Mr. Jinnah’s unyielding struggle towards the Palestinian cause several times. On one such occasion in 1946, the Grand Mufti wrote to Mr. Jinnah, “Muslims of the world would remember how the League under leadership of Jinnah favored and cared for the affairs of the Muslim countries like Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Western Trablus, Indonesia and all other countries of North Africa.”

In 1946, the US, which had replaced the UK as the dominant global power, and its dalliance with Israel began to blossom further – this was evidenced by the US President’s policy of supporting a Jewish state in Palestine.

On 14th August 1947, Mr. Jinnah’s long and tedious struggle to create an independent nation for the Muslim Indians was finally successful. Although a momentous occasion for the AIML and new Pakistanis, the Palestinians were not as lucky as they became anguished due to the UN’s deliberation on how to partition Palestine. When the partition plan was accepted by the UN in November 1947, Mr. Jinnah, then the Governor General of Pakistan, wrote to US President Truman and asserted, “The decision is ultra vires of the United Nations charter and basically wrong and invalid in law… The very people for whose benefit this decision is taken—the Jews, who have already suffered terribly from Nazi persecution—will I greatly fear, suffer most if this unjust course is pursued…”

Talking to Robert Simson of the BBC, he expressed that the decision was “unjust and cruel” and pledged to aid the cause “of the Arabs in Palestine in every possible way. In the aftermath of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine that aimed to divide the territory into an Arab state, a Jewish state, and a Special International Regime for Jerusalem and Bethlehem, war broke out internally as well as between the nations of the Arab League and Israel. The result was almost a complete Israeli victory with the new state not only controlling their area proposed by the UN but also occupying around 60% of the area proposed to the Palestinians. Israel also took control of West Jerusalem, which was meant to be an international zone. The state of Israel was born on 14th May 1948.

History, the greatest of writers, inscribed poetically how Pakistan and Israel both came to be within the space of 9 months – perhaps the only two nations to be created in the name of religion. Both nations are marked with territorial disputes as well, which remain unresolved and pose a threat on a global scale. Mr. Jinnah passed soon after on 11th September 1948.

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A few months ago if someone asked me if Pakistan would ever recognize Israel regardless of the strong Israel-US nexus, my answer would be a no. However, in recent months the elites of Pakistan have trapped the country in an almost-unwinnable situation after Imran Khan’s ouster. Pakistan is desperate for money, for its loans to be waived, and for inflation to come down. Terrorist attacks have also begun rising. Therefore, Israel, already on a high after the Abraham Accords, might see this as an opportunity to aid or pressurize Pakistan to recognize Israel, sell their nuclear weapons, or both.  The murmurings of such Machiavellian machinations have been ongoing in the country’s power corridors as well as on social media for a while. In fact, when the relatively stable government of Imran Khan was governing, there were internal and exogenous pressures on him to recognize Israel. Now that a vapid and corrupt government marred with greater economic and political schisms has replaced his, those same burdens stand buttressed.

If Pakistan does become desperate or corrupt enough to recognize Israel, it would be to its detriment in the long run. Conversely, to “befriend” and perhaps denuclearize the only Muslim nuclear state with one of the strongest armies in the world would be a massive victory for Israel. Netanyahu himself is on record for stating that after Iran, Pakistan is the largest specter to the state due to its possession of a massive nuclear arsenal.

Pakistanis, as pro-Palestine as they are, are in a despairing situation, which will turn murkier still, I fear. The implication is that maybe the citizens (not all but some) could be convinced of the absurd move to recognize Israel or worse. I am completely opposed to this as the Palestine issue has always remained a red line for Pakistan – this much we must not obfuscate – and for the politicians and citizens to abandon this red line would be catastrophic, maybe not economically, but morally and spiritually.

We must remember that in British India, times were tougher for the Muslims than what Pakistan is facing currently but the founders did not compromise on their scruples even with their backs against the wall. For example, Mr. Jinnah, known even by his rivals as incorruptible, was made several enticing offers from Gandhi, Viceroy Mountbatten, and others to become the first PM of a united India if his demand for Pakistan was renounced – but he never accepted. Mr. Iqbal, as unwavering himself, expressed his fiery passion for Palestine in a letter to Mr. Jinnah, “The Palestine question is very much agitating the minds of the Muslims… Personally I would not mind going to jail on an issue which affects both Islam and India. The formation of a Western base on the very gates of the East is a menace to both.”

Mr. Jinnah and Mr. Iqbal’s examples signify the indefatigable commitment towards Pakistan and Palestine that Pakistanis must exemplify now. Therefore, the country must follow in the steadfast footsteps of the founders and refrain from recognizing Israel – for recognizing Israel is to forsake Palestine and to forsake Palestine is to forsake Pakistan.

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