No two countries in the world are so close in their experience as a young nation and yet so far apart in their political compulsions as Israel and Pakistan.

To a lesser degree of uniqueness, these two countries have much to do with the questions of war and peace in the vast landmass from the Nile Valley to the Indus Valley, that once was a cradle of civilization, and could next be its graveyard. What happens in these two countries and between them and their neighbors should be of great interest for the international community.

Born only a few months apart, both on a Friday, Israel and Pakistan share an incredibly long list of other remarkable, even uncanny, commonalities.

Consider: both were carved out of a British colony; both were created in the name of religion by leaders who were secularists at heart; both were born as geographical oddities, Israel in three blocs and Pakistan in two; both saw large-scale exodus and immigration in the first year of their existence; both got involved in territorial disputes with their neighbors immediately after birth; both have borders that have yet to stabilize after more than six decades of existence.

Both are hated by their neighbors for the same reason, that is, causing dismemberment of a cherished historical entity; both have fought major wars with their neighbors, and thrice their separate wars were so close in time (1948, 1965/67, 1971/73) as to have happened on cue; both have had an incumbent prime minister shot by a religious fanatic; both view their existence as threatened; both are armed with nuclear weapons, about 200 warheads each; and both have a large section of their population infected with mandate syndrome.

These wide-ranging commonalities could have invoked a measure of empathy between Israel and Pakistan, and the two could have worked together for peace in the vast region that lies between their respective borders. This was possible in the early years when the issues were simpler, leaders less cynical and the international community more innocent. Now the situation is too complex, hatred more pervasive and the leadership reactive rather than proactive.

Both Israel and Pakistan have got so used to conflicts with their neighbors that those conflicts have almost assumed the permanence of a natural state of existence for them. There is no regret in either of the two countries for having missed many opportunities for bringing an end to those conflicts.

This indulgent view of conflict is reflected in the fact that both in Israel and Pakistan “peaceniks” are viewed as only a shade better than traitors. Maybe the ideological hawks and the guardians of the state in the two states fear that absence of conflict with their neighbors could reopen the debate on the raison d’etre for a separate homeland and, worse, undermine their power and influence. Maybe they believe that their respective ideological states would wither away if there is no threat to their survival.

There is some reason, though, why Israel and Pakistan feel apprehensive about their future. The reason is that a large number of people in their neighborhood haven’t quite cottoned on to their separate and independent existence. But it’s equally true that there are too many people in Israel and Pakistan who are convinced that their neighbors occupy rather more land than they should. This has created conflicts that keep simmering like a sleeping volcano which, in an ironic twist, creates a feeling of insecurity not so much among the neighbors as among the Israelis and Pakistanis themselves.

While it’s true that new realities take a long time to sink into the collective consciousness of people at large, it’s not too early for Israel and Pakistan to conclude that they are no longer new realities and that the debate regarding whether their creation was necessary or justified is now pointless. Even if the raison d’etre for a separate homeland, as perceived seven decades ago, ceases to resonate with the younger generation in an environment of peace, the existence of the two states is a living reality that has its own resonance.

Their abiding existence is its own justification.

But that assurance is perhaps, not enough, for, both Israel and Pakistan, for different reasons and in different manner, perceive a threat not so much to their physical existence as to their ideological identity.

It’s a complex situation that was described in simplest possible words by Avraham Burg in his recent article “Israel’s fading democracy”: “Israel defines itself as a ‘Jewish and democratic state.’ However, because Israel has never created a system of checks and balances between these two sources of authority, they are closer than ever to a terrible clash.” Replace the words “ Israel” and “Jewish” with “Pakistan” and “Islamic,” and you have an accurate description of the situation in Pakistan. Another commonality?

The writer is a frequent contributor to The Dawn, a newspaper in Pakistan.

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