Islamists vent anger at Pakistan-Israel talks, but protests draw little support
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan’s initiation of high-level talks with Israel prompted fury from Islamic hard-liners who stormed out of Parliament on Friday and called protests in major cities across the country.But despite fiery rhetoric, the rallies held after Friday prayers were poorly attended, and newspaper commentators gave the landmark meeting between Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and his Pakistani counterpart Khursheed Kasuri a cautious welcome.Thursday’s meeting in Turkey was the first high-level contact between the two countries – a direct response to Israel’s recent removal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip.However, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Naeem Khan said there are no plans for President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting later this month – a possibility that Shalom said he had discussed with Kasuri.News of the meeting in Turkey surprised many here, and hard-line Islamic clerics from an influential, anti-U.S. opposition bloc in Pakistan’s Parliament responded quickly with a call for protests in major cities across the country.The rallies fizzled. At the largest, about 300 supporters of an opposition coalition of six Islamic parties, Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, gathered in the northwestern city of Peshawar. Smaller protests were staged by the coalition in Quetta and Karachi. At a rally in Rawalpindi, near the capital, only about a dozen people showed up.MMA’s chief, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, sharply criticized Musharraf, rejecting his government’s insistence that Thursday’s meeting does not signal imminent diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.”The meeting between Kasuri and Israeli foreign minister is a first toward recognition of Israel,” Ahmed told the rally in Peshawar. “Musharraf wants to sell the blood of Palestinians and we will not allow him to do it.”Lawmakers from the Islamic party coalition staged a walkout of the lower house of the parliament, accusing the government of not consulting them before holding the talks.”Only one individual (Musharraf) took this decision. We condemn it,” said Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, deputy chief of MMA.Hoping to cool tempers, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said the decision to hold talks with Israel was based on a request from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. He said Abbas wanted them to play a role in helping to resolve the Middle East crisis.”Pakistan has not recognized Israel,” Aziz said, adding that “any such decision would be taken in supreme national interests after due consultation of the parliament.”Pakistan has in the past has taken a harder line against Israel than some Arab countries, and Musharraf said Thursday that Pakistan would not recognize Israel until the establishment of a free and independent state for the Palestinian people.Israel has open diplomatic ties with only four Muslim countries – Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Mauritania.In an editorial, Pakistan’s Daily Times newspaper said it was time for Pakistan to review its Israel policy, because of archrival India’s defense and other ties with Tel Aviv.”It makes no sense for Pakistan to remain wedded to a policy whose course may have run out,” the English-language daily said.Outside Pakistan, two Palestinian factions condemned the meeting.The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine issued a statement saying it was “a free gain for nuclear Israel and a total loss for Arabs and Muslims.”The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command said the meeting was a “backward step in the primary role” of Pakistan in the Islamic world.Vail – Colorado
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