July 08, 2017

Pakistan may try to use Modi-Netanyahu bonhomie to turn Muslim world against India, but it's bound to fail


World Srinivasa PrasadJul, 08 2017 19:37:59 IST

After all the hype and hoopla over the Modi-Netanyahu bromance, it's time to ponder what it means for New Delhi's relations with other countries and to wonder whether Indians should lose sleep over it.

For starters, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Israel visit has already raised hackles in Pakistan, Iran and Palestine. But does it really matter? And what did Modi really do in Israel?

To begin with, Israel had for long complained that India was treating it like a mistress. Like a man visiting his concubine in the cover of darkness, India had indeed taken covert advantage of Israel's defence prowess but was too apologetic about admitting to the relationship. But Modi has dramatically altered that situation now.

After signing seven agreements and exchanging innumerable hugs, Modi and Netanyahu frolicked on Olga Beach like long-lost school chums who just found each other on Facebook.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi exchanged several hugs with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu. AP

For Pakistan, and for Israel's sworn enemy Iran, all this is raising an imaginary spectre of India and Israel ganging up against the world's Muslims, notably those in Palestine and Kashmir. Reports from the two countries make that clear. And Modi's embrace of Netanyahu wouldn't amuse leaders even in Saudi Arabia, which too has visceral hatred for Israel. And it certainly has led to disappointed frowns in Palestine territories, where India was thought to be a friend for long.

But even before Modi left Israel's magnificent Mediterranean shores, there was plenty of harrumphing in Islamabad about this visit. Pakistan's leading daily Dawn, normally sober and not known for hawkish hot air, said in an editorial, "While the comparison would be anathema to New Delhi, there is a clear parallel between Israel's atrocious behaviour towards the Palestinians, and the brute force India has unleashed upon Kashmiris."

"Perhaps the Indo-Israeli embrace has provided an opportunity for Pakistan to highlight the Kashmir issue with Iran and others, in order to build world opinion against the atrocities unleashed upon both the Kashmiris and Palestinians," the paper added.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei had already begun this job of opinion-shaping. On 3 July, a day before Modi set foot on Israeli soil, Khamenei exhorted his country's judiciary to support "Muslims of Myanmar and Kashmir".

Only a week earlier, on 26 June, he mentioned Kashmir during his Eid sermon. He called on the Muslim world to support people of Bahrain, Yemen and Kashmir.

The immediate provocation for Khamenei's 26 June outburst was believed to be the decision taken by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and the Maldives to sever diplomatic relations with Qatar.

In Bahrain, and more seriously in Yemen, Shia-Muslim rebels fight their respective governments. It's no secret that Shia-majority Iran backs them to the hilt.

Khamenei's sermon was targeted not only against arch rival and Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia but also all its supporters. US president Donald Trump, whose 20-21 May visit to Riyadh led to the Saudi camp punishing Qatar, was also a target.

And by mentioning Kashmir in the same breath as he did Yemen and Bahrain, Khameini was also directing his Islamic indignation at India, which is perceived to be increasingly cosying up to both the US and Saudi Arabia. So Khamenei was trying to kill many birds with one stone. The same day on 26 June, he tweeted three times in support of Palestine.

If Khamenei's 26 June sermon took in its sweep a whole bunch of countries, his latest fulmination on 3 July was essentially aimed at India alone. Myanmar was thrown in by the Shia leader to give it a touch of intra-Islam secularism: In both Myanmar and Kashmir, it's Sunni Muslims who fight the establishments.

This is the first time after 2010 that the Iranian leader is raking up the Kashmir issue. In 2010, he referred to Kashmir as a "nation".

Khamenei had never made a secret of what he thought of Jews. In 2012, he said "all Jews must be annihilated and Israel destroyed".

Khamenei can be expected to pour out his anger for some more time to come, but his threats may come to mean nothing in the end, as it has happened so often in the past. Besides, Iran needs India, and not just because of Chabahar port.

And how will Saudi Arabia react to the new India-Israel solidarity? Though Iran and Saudi Arabia detest each other, they share a pathological hatred for Israel. Riyadh is India's largest oil supplier, and during Modi's visit last year, it promised to invest generous amounts in India's infrastructure. So in the long run, the Saudis are unlikely to be greatly perturbed by Modi giving Netanyahu a hug or two.

And yet, you can trust Pakistan to use public and backdoor channels to turn not only Iran and Saudi Arabia but also the whole Muslim world against India. And Modi will need the best of his diplomatic and persuasive skills — of which he has proved he has plenty — to counter Pakistan's propaganda.

For one thing, Modi was careful not to cross the red line in Israel. In fact, the end-of-the-visit joint statement spoke little of the Palestine problem except to say that it needed a "negotiated settlement". It didn't make even an oblique reference to the two-State theory that India backs.

Modi can rightly argue, if he has to, that his visit to Israel had more to do with economics than politics. Besides, Modi made friends during his visits to UAE (August 2015), Saudi Arabia (April 2016), Iran (May 2016) and Qatar (June 2016). Important Arab nations are too busy with a host of other troubles to bother too much about Pakistan's campaigns and Khamenei's tweets on Palestine and Kashmir.

It takes a lot more than a visit by Narendra Modi to Israel for the Muslim nations to gang up against India. Pakistan must know that

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