Such opportunities may constitute the best initial type of stepped-up engagement between Israel and Pakistan: Quiet cooperation in relatively uncontroversial spaces—ideally driven by the private sector—that focuses on strengthening and diversifying Pakistan’s economy, with emphasis on technology transfers and information sharing. Such interactions can help build goodwill and trust, and lay the grounds for more expanded cooperation down the road if stronger prospects for Palestinian statehood ever begin to take shape.
An Uncertain Trajectory
To be sure, just because Pakistan has compelling incentives to increase ties with Israel doesn’t mean it will happen. This is because of the possibility of entrenched political resistance at home, but also because of political leadership changes abroad. The Biden administration wants to ease tensions with Iran, so it may not be initially keen to push for further normalizations with Israel, which are staunchly opposed by Tehran. Consequently, the new U.S. administration could dull the spirit of the Abraham Accords and dampen the environment for Pakistan’s outreach to Israel. Additionally, the recent dissolution of Israel’s Parliament could give Islamabad pause until there’s more clarity about Israel’s political future after a scheduled election in March.
Still, the future of Pakistan-Israel relations isn’t as black and white as Islamabad publicly proclaims. Yes, recognition of Israel is off the table for now. But that doesn’t rule out stepped-up links short of recognition that build on the quiet ties of the past, and that help Islamabad pursue some key interests.
Michael Kugelman is Asia Program deputy director and senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC.