Dubai (September 26, 2022): As a back-channel talks, the recent visit to Israel by Pakistan’s former Cabinet Minister and Ex-Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Dr. Nasim Ashraf and his delegation has stirred up yet another controversy back in his native Pakistan.
However, in an interview with Israeli’s i24 NEWS, Dr. Nasim Ashraf spoke about a variety of topics including the purpose of the visit to the Jewish state, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals as the defence deterrent, Pakistan’s prospective relations with Israel, need for inter-faith harmony and peaceful living among cross sections of the society.
Here is the transcript of the interview;
Q: I would like to hear about your impressions and time spent in Israel? What stood out or anything surprised you during this visit?
Dr. Nasim Ashraf: We are thankful to Sharaka for giving us an opportunity to visit Israel. It has been a tremendous experience for all of us. We have learnt so much and we have been received most warmly here; from everybody in streets to the ministries. We have had the honour to meet with the President of Israel Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem who welcomed us with great warmth and hospitality. All of have had an enriching experience during this visit. We are very thankful to Sharaka for giving us this opportunity.
Q: Dr. Nsim this visit has been quite an unusual as Pakistan and Israel –the Jewish state – do not have any diplomatic ties. Tell us what other people had to say when they heard that you are making this visit to Israel? Or once they heard you are here in Israel, what are their reactions back in Pakistan?
Dr. Nasim Ashraf: The overwhelming feedback about the visit which I have been getting is positive. But there are always some people who are always negative and critical. But in general, the response to our visit has been positive as people-to-people exchanges need to be promoted to create and facilitate understanding about each other and promote peace and inter-faith harmony. Overall, the response to the visit has been very positive.
Q: As the someone who has served in the Pakistani government and countries abroad, what we can expect for the future relations between the two Pakistan and Israel? Can they develop into full diplomatic ties in future?
Dr. Nasim Ashraf: The diplomatic ties between Israel and Pakistan are directly linked to the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Pakistan officially stands by its commitment that the Palestinians get their rights and the statehood or whatever is decided between Israel and Palestine. At the same time, Pakistan has consistently supported Palestinians and its position on the issue is crystal clear.
Q: Atleast for Israel, there is a strong military cooperation interest here for Pakistan as it is a nuclear capable country, which shares long border with Iran. What special interests Israel has with Pakistan, considering that it does shares a long border with Iran?
Dr. Nasim Ashraf: First of all, let me clarify that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal has nothing to do with Israel. Pakistan’s nuclear assets are in fact defence deterrent against India. New Delhi first carried out nuclear blasts and Islamabad followed the suit only to for its defence deterrence. So the nuclear deterrent of Pakistan is not against any country including Israel.
I don’t think so that Pakistan’s border sharing with Iran is any factor or threat to Israel. Pakistan believes in having friendly relations with every country including Israel. But Pakistan’s border sharing with Iran along with the nuclear capabilities have nothing to do with Israel. I can assure that Pakistan’s nuclear assets are safe and as I said earlier they are defence deterrent against India.
Purpose of the Trip
Organizers say that the aim of the trip was to allow the participants to see and explore Israel for themselves, and to transmit what they learn and experience to audiences in Pakistan to help provide information for the important debate underway on whether Pakistan should join the Abraham Accords. Moreover, due to the tragic flooding in Pakistan, much of the visit focused on life-saving technologies developed in Israel relating to water and food security and to mitigating climate and environmental disasters.
The trip included a meeting with the President of Israel, senior foreign policy figures, and well-known intellectual, cultural, religious and political figures. The trip had a special focus on the Israeli hi-tech ecosystem and featured meetings with leading innovators in the water, agro and climate tech spaces, as well as Israel’s world-leading water management systems. The delegation also met an internationally-recognised expert on crisis preparedness. The team also paid a visit to the holy sites that are sacred to Abrahamic faiths along with a visit to the Holocaust Museum.
Pakistan and Israel do not have diplomatic relations. However, earlier this year, Jerusalem took part in a large-scale naval exercise in the Red Sea led by the US 5th Fleet alongside Pakistan and a number of other countries with which it has no diplomatic ties including Saudi Arabia, Oman, Comoros, Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen.
Israel attaches particular strategic importance to Pakistan because it is the only Muslim country with an operational nuclear capability and due to its shared border with Iran.
Members of the Delegation
A special delegation of Pakistani-Americans including Pakistan’s former Minister of State for Human Development and Ex-Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Dr. Nasim Ashraf visited Israeli last week. The delegation also included high profile representatives from the American Muslims and Multi-faith Women’s Empowerment Council, journalists, and Sharaka, a US-based non-government group founded after the signing of the Abraham Accords, which was brokered by the Trump administration in 2020 and normalised relations between Israel and four Arab countries — the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
Headed by Dr. Nasim Ashraf, the delegation was comprised of nine members including four who live in Pakistan and several other prominent Americans of Pakistani origin as well as a British Pakistani Imam.
Images circulating on social media platforms show that Imtiaz Mir, Anchor Metro 1 News, Faiz Brohi, CEO of Awaz TV and Arif Naqvi of Geo/Jang Group are also part of the delegation.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office Denial
Earlier, Pakistan’s Foreign Office categorically rejected reports of a Pakistani delegation’s visit to Israel, clarifying that the visit has been arranged by a foreign NGO, which is not based in Pakistan.
Addressing a media briefing, Asim Iftikhar Ahmed, Foreign Office’s Spokesperson, asserted that Pakistan’s position on the Palestine issue remains unchanged despite the visit of the delegation.
It is particular to note that last year, a Pakistani expert told i24NEWS that his country purchased technology from Israel in recent years to secure its arsenal of nuclear weapons. Noor Dehari, founder of the Institute of Islamic Theology Against Terrorism, pointed out that the technology was actually bought from Britain but transferred by the Israeli government.
The visit has come more than three months after journalist Ahmed Quraishi, who also travelled to Jerusalem to promote inter-faith harmony, was taken off the air by the Pakistan Television Corporation after his visit.