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With memories of Black September still alive, can Pakistan betray Palestinians, yet again?

September 1970 is known as “Black September” in the annals of Arab history.

Israel has entered the Pakistani diplomatic lexicon yet again, even though Islamabad might want the world to believe that it clubs its engagement with Tel Aviv with the emergence of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. On the sidelines of the recently concluded United Nations General Assembly session, Pakistan’s interim foreign minister Jalil Abbas Jilani is rumoured to have met Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen, who himself claimed to have met foreign ministers of 6-7 countries in connection with normalisation of ties with Israel.

Pakistan is said to have been one of those 6-7 countries.

Jilani was posed this question soon after he returned after attending the UNGA in New York on Thursday. He asserted that Pakistan’s stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict “is and will remain” the same as it was in the past. However, in response to a question on ties with Israel, he said: “Whenever we decide on the matter, we will keep our national interests on priority.”

This triggered a flurry of speculation on social media whether Pakistan is changing its policy towards the Jewish state to suit its interests and perhaps to uplift its doomed economy. People also speculated that the next Pakistani government may recognise Israel.

Reacting to Jilani’s statement regarding ties with Israel, journalist Anwar Lodhi said, “Is Pakistan backing away from its traditional position regarding the recognition of Israel? Until the time of Imran Khan, Pakistan’s position was that Pakistan will not recognise Israel until the problem of Palestine is solved and the Palestinians get their rights. Now the matter has come to the national interest. And the country’s interest will be defined by those who conspired in the country’s interest to separate Imran Khan from power, the disastrous effects of which the nation is now suffering. Can Israel be recognised after installing the next government through rigging?”

Lodhi made this remark on Twitter and Jilani responded to it saying: “Pakistan has always stood with Palestinian brothers and sisters. And we will continue to do so. In my statement at UNGA, I renewed Pakistan’s call for an independent State of Palestine, based on pre-67 borders, with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as capital. This is in our national interest.”

In the background of reports that Saudi Arabia and some other Muslim states were trying to formalise relations with Tel Aviv, Jilani made it very clear that Pakistan did not have diplomatic ties with Israel and pointed to its policy where it adhered to a two-state solution in accordance with the relevant United Nations and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) resolutions as well as international law.

Pakistan’s Past of Breaking Away with Palestinians

September 1970 is known as “Black September” in the annals of Arab history (Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine to be precise). It is also known as the Jordanian Civil War or an armed conflict between Jordan, led by King Hussein, and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), led by its chairman Yasser Arafat.

As the fight raged and Arafat’s guerillas began to have the upper hand, Pakistan quietly moved an infantry regiment into Jordan.

The sources, according to the New York Times, said that the troops were in addition to two Pakistani military‐training missions — one for the Jordanian Air Force and one for armored units — that have been in Jordan for three or four months. The regiment was said to number 2,000 to 3,000 men, while the training missions were said to total 200 to 300 men.

The head of a Pakistani training mission to Jordan, Brigadier Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (later Chief of Army Staff and President of Pakistan). Zia had been stationed in Amman for three years prior to Black September. During the events, according to CIA official Jack O’Connell, Zia was dispatched by Hussein north to assess Syria’s military capabilities. The Pakistani commander reported back to Hussein, recommending the deployment of a RJAF squadron to the region. O’Connell also said that Zia personally led Jordanian troops during the battles.

Western intelligence sources said that a Pakistani antiaircraft‐training unit was also known to have been active in Jordan for about a month.

The commander of the Pakistani Air Force, Air Marshal Rahim Khan, spent five days in Jordan and was decorated with Jordan’s highest military order, just before King Hussein went to the meeting in Cairo of the Arab “confrontation” countries later that year.

The Military Balance, published by the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, credited Pakistan with having one air‐defense brigade armed with antiaircraft weapons. A brigade is normally made up of three battalions.

The account, reported NYT, suggested that the Pakistani battalion in Jordan constituted about one‐third of Pakistan’s antiaircraft force.

Pakistan also had a squadron of F‐104’s. It was understood that in the past Jordan had asked Pakistan’s help in training some of her F‐104 pilots and mechanics.

Most of the troops and weaponry sent by Pakistan to Jordan was actually to strengthen the Arab front against Israel as Pakistan became the first non-Arab country to station its troops against Israel. But, they helped kill Palestinians.