Pakistan Approaches the Israel-Gaza Conflict Cautiously

Pakistan’s response to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war has been carefully tailored to meet both domestic and international expectations.

As a majority Muslim nation where the Palestine issue is considered sensitive, Pakistan’s foreign office has called for an immediate ceasefire and an end to the siege of Gaza by Israel. “We are deeply concerned over the fast-deteriorating and dire humanitarian situation in Gaza due to the inhumane blockade and collective punishment by Israeli forces,” Foreign Office Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch told reporters.

The spokesperson called on Israel to “fulfil its obligations as an occupying power under international law, lift the blockade and allow unhindered access to humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people.”

The foreign office said the current cycle of violence was “a sad reminder and a direct consequence of over seven decades of illegal foreign occupation, aggression and disrespect for international law,” including UNSC resolutions that recognize the inalienable right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.”

Generally, Pakistan’s official stance on the conflict aligns with its long-standing position of not recognizing Israel as a state. For decades, Pakistan has called for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, based on “internationally agreed parameters.”

By emphasizing that the core issue behind the current cycle of conflict is the failure to implement a two-state solution, Pakistan’s foreign office has highlighted its long-standing support for a resolution that respects Palestinian sovereignty.

In this context, what is the position of the Pakistani army top brass?

Despite expressing concern over the deteriorating human rights conditions in Gaza and offering political and diplomatic support to Palestinians, the military leadership has maintained a cautious tone that aligns with the foreign office. This indicates a coordinated policy response among various state institutions.

During a meeting with the Palestinian Ambassador to Pakistan earlier this week, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Asim Munir expressed grave concern for the killing of Palestinians in Gaza. He called on the international community to end Israel’s “unlawful use of force.” The “fresh spate of violence in Gaza is the result of unabated repression, continued human rights violations and state-sponsored sacrilege of Al Aqsa Mosque,” he said.

“Conflating this war with terrorism would be naive; taking a narrow and self-serving view of the issue as an isolated attack obscures brutal oppression spanning decades that has led to this outcome,” the military’s media wing quoted the COAS as saying.

In the current conflict, right-wing Islamists in Pakistan were outspoken in their support of Hamas, the Islamist group that attacked Israel on October 7. In a similar vein, political parties across the nation have joined the bandwagon and partially endorsed the cause of Palestine to gain an electoral edge. Pakistan has, meanwhile, formally abstained from making any provocative remarks about Israel that may endanger its ties with friendly countries or Western capitals.

This cautious stance can be seen as a valuable lesson learned from recent conflicts such as the Ukraine-Russia war, which saw Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan travel to Moscow at the outset of the conflict, a move that caused Islamabad severe diplomatic difficulties and enraged Western capitals, especially the U.S.

Since there are significant interests at stake with major international players involved in the conflict, Pakistan’s decision-makers have chosen a more diplomatic approach, realizing the potential consequences of using inflammatory rhetoric or acting hastily. Arguably, Pakistani decisionmakers do not want to see Pakistan end up in a situation similar to that in the Russia-Ukraine war.

It is crucial to note that the Pakistani population continues to oppose the idea of normalizing relations with Israel. For some time now, Pakistan has been keenly observing Saudi Arabia’s efforts to normalize relations with Israel. If this effort succeeds, it may also provide Pakistan with some answers and clarifications regarding its stance on the Palestine conflict.

It is noteworthy that despite growing pressure and rhetoric surrounding the Israel-Hamas conflict in Pakistan’s political landscape, state institutions, caretaker government officials, and foreign office personnel have refrained from making statements that could be interpreted as Islamabad actively advocating violence against Israel or the use of force to settle the dispute.

However, if the killing of Palestinian civilians persists, Pakistan might not continue to take this careful stance. In any case, Pakistan will maintain a balance to ensure the security of its broader political and diplomatic interests.

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