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Pakistan under pressure to recognise Israel, says Imran Khan

Prime minister says United States and other countries ramping up pressure following Israel's deals with UAE and Bahrain
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses the legislative assembly in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, 5 August (AFP)

Pakistan is under pressure from the US and other countries to normalise ties with Israel, Prime Minister Imran Khan said, but insisted Islamabad will not open up relations with the "Zionists".

Cash-strapped Pakistan relies on the support of Gulf Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia, who have been overtly and covertly building ties to Israel in recent years.

In September, the UAE and Bahrain signed a US-brokered normalisation agreement with Israel, and have been rapidly building ties since.

Sudan last month became the latest Arab or Islamic country to follow suit after heavy pressure from Abu Dhabi and Washington. Last week, Khan revealed that Pakistan, too, was being pressed to recognise Israel.

Khan told local media "Israel's deep influence in the US" was behind the pressure.

"This influence was in fact extraordinary during the Trump stint," he said.

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When asked if Muslim countries were also applying pressure, Khan said: "There are things we cannot say. We have good relations with them.

"I have no second thought about recognising Israel unless there is a just settlement, which satisfies Palestine," he added.

In September 2019, Middle East Eye reported Imran Khan saying that "Pakistan has a very straightforward position. It was our founder of Pakistan Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who was very clear that there has to be just settlement, a homeland for Palestinians before Pakistan can recognise Israel."

He reiterated his position this week, adding that "Islamabad would continue to follow in Jinnah's footsteps vis-a-vis Palestine."

Commenting on the policy of the US President-elect Joe Biden regarding issues of Palestine and Afghanistan, Khan said: "Afghanistan is not the real issue. The real issue is Israel. It is to be seen how Biden deals with that. Whether he changes Trump's policies about Israel or continues with them."

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, sent a thankful letter to Khan following his comments. 

"We highly appreciate your adherence to your positions in support of the Palestinian people to obtain their legitimate rights," Abbas wrote.