Pakistan


Total population: 135 million
Jewish population: approximately 300

General background

Pakistan was proclaimed an Islamic republic in 1956 and the commitment to Islam as the state religion was reaffirmed by the 1962 and 1973 constitutions. Legislation in 1991 declared Islamic law (Shari'a) supreme. In the 1993 gen-eral election, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) became the largest single party in the national assembly and its leader, Benazir Bhutto, was appointed prime minister. The president of Pakistan, Farooq Lughari, and the chief-of-staff of the armed forces also play key roles in political decision-making.

Amidst increasing opposition and charges of corruption, Bhutto's coalition government was dissolved in October 1996 by President Lughari, who announced that new elections would be held early in 1997. Imran Khan, an international cricket star who had gained widespread popularity through charity campaigns in Pakistan, founded a new political party, Tahreek a-Insaf (Justice Movement).

The general election was held on 3 January 1997 and the Pakistan Muslim League (a moderate democratic Islamic party) emerged with an absolute majority in the national assembly. Mian Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the party, was appointed prime minister.

The clandestine training of militant Islamists in the North-West Frontier Province, which runs along the border with Afghanistan, is a source of concern beyond Pakistan. For example, Sheikh Omar Abd al-Rahman, the Egyptian cleric sentenced to life imprisonment in the USA for masterminding the bombing of the World Trade Center building in New York (see United States of America and Egypt), reportedly maintained a base in the city of Peshawar.

In 1996 Pakistani officials continued to condemn the Middle East peace process and to declare that Pakistan would not establish relations with Israel until Israel fully implemented UN resolutions.

Historical legacy

Before 1947 the Jewish community in Pakistan felt reasonably secure under British rule. Within a year of independence, however, the Pakistani government revoked the community's rights, denying Jews political representation. Following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, violent incidents occurred against Pakistan's small Jewish community, which numbered approximately 2,000 Bene Yisrael Jews. The synagogue in the former capital, Karachi, was set alight and Jews were attacked. This resulted in the large-scale emigration of the community, mostly to India. In the early 1950s an estimated 250 Jews remained in Karachi.

Out of solidarity with the Muslim Arab states, Pakistan maintained a hostile stance towards Zionism and the state of Israel. In his address as chair of the Second Islamic Summit in 1974, Prime Minister Z. A. Bhutto asserted: "To Jews as Jews we bear no malice; to Jews as Zionists, intoxicated with their militarism and reeking with technological arrogance, we refuse to be hospitable."

The Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973, the attempted arson of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem in 1969, and the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon gave rise to further expressions of anti-Zionism in Pakistan.

Many influential political figures, including the military chief-of-staff, promoted the theory that the 1991 Gulf War was a "clear manifestation of the anti-Muslim forces at work at the behest of Israel and the Zionist lobby in the United States". The leader of the main Islamist party, Jammat e-Islami, termed it the "war between the Jews, the worst enemy of Islam, and the Muslims".

Racism and xenophobia

Pakistan is a predominantly Muslim country with small Christian minorities that constitute less than 3 per cent of the population. Discrimination against Christians, Hindus and members of Islamic sects such as the Ahmadiya, which differ from the Sunni majority, has led to acts of violence. Harassment of Ahmadis is prevalent, especially since 1984 when the government introduced legislation that banned Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslims.

Parties, organizations, movements

Jammat e-Islami is led by Qazi Hussain Ahmed, who was a member of the senate, Pakistan's upper house, until his resignation in August. The party has strong links with anti-government Islamist forces in Egypt and blames western lobbies, including Zionists, for attacks on religious parties and movements in all parts of the Muslim world.

Cultural and sporting life

When Pakistan lost the world cup cricket series to India in Calcutta, prominent Pakistanis blamed a "Hindu-Zionist conspiracy".

Publications and media

The media in Pakistan have provided extensive coverage of the political and personal career of the cricket star Imran Khan. Since Khan's marriage in 1996 to Jemima Goldsmith, daughter of a British industrialist and politician, Sir James Goldsmith (see United Kingdom), Khan has been accused of acting as an agent of the "Jewish lobby". Jemima Khan publicly denied that her parents were Jewish.

An Egyptian newpaper distributed in Pakistan accused Khan of receiving large sums of money for his election campaign from the "Jewish lobby". Following complaints from Khan, the deputy editor of the newspaper retracted the story and published an apology.

Effects of anti-Zionism

Since India established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992, the Pakistani media have repeatedly referred to the "Zionist threat on our borders", and occasionally combine both anti-Zionist and antisemitic rhetoric. This is particularly common in the Islamist press, but also occurs in mainstream publications. The visit to India in December of Israel's President Ezer Weizmann and India's agreement to purchase Israeli military equipment aroused hostile comments in the Pakistani press.

Assessment

Many factors combine to enourage the tiny Jewish community in Karachi to maintain a low profile. Despite the developments in the Middle East peace process, Pakistan's hostility towards Israel and Zionism has not waned. Expressions of antisemitism in the media also reflect a more general form of xenophobia, as illustrated by the comments published about Jemima Khan. The political instability of the country and the increasing influence of Islamists have further undermined the security of the Jewish community.

© JPR 1997