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Pervez’s Israel call criticised

Islamabad, June 30 (Reuters): Pakistan’s powerful Islamic opposition attacked President Pervez Musharraf today for calling on his nation to consider recognising Israel if the fledgling West Asia peace process remained on track.

The criticism by leading clerics and officials in the overwhelmingly Muslim country is the latest phase of a bitter standoff between a six-party Islamic coalition and the military ruler dating back to elections in October last year.

Musharraf said late yesterday that Pakistan should discuss opening ties with Israel.

“If the peace process is going forward and they are moving towards peace then we should think whether we will keep our stance against Israel or not,” he told the private Geo-TV news channel. “We need a national consensus on it.

“We have no reason to become more Palestinian than the Palestinians or more Catholic than the Pope.”

Pakistan has no ties with Israel and its citizens are not allowed to travel there.

Any step towards official recognition is a highly sensitive issue in the country of more than 140 million people, and Islamic parties wasted little time in turning on Musharraf.

“Whoever supports Israel supports tyranny and supports millions of Palestinians not coming back to their homes,” said Munnawar Hasan, secretary general of Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the parties making up the Islamic bloc in parliament.

The question of recognising Israel has also surfaced in Bangladesh, particularly since US secretary of state Colin Powell visited the mainly Muslim state of 130 million this month.

Bangladesh foreign secretary Shamsher M. Chowdhury said the government was following the peace process carefully.

“It is a 50-year-old problem, it may not be resolved within a mere three months of truce.

“If it is successful, consideration of recognition to Israel may come.”

Palestinians insist on the right of return for some four million refugees from the 1948 war in which Israel was created, but the Jewish state rejects the idea.

The issue could become an obstacle on any road to peace now that tentative moves in that direction are underway.

“I do not think Pakistan is in a position to debate this issue until all of these things are cleared,” Hasan said.

He broadened his attack on the Pakistani President, accusing Musharraf of bowing to US pressure. The President is already unpopular with Islamic hardliners for backing Washington in its war on the Taliban regime in neighbouring Afghanistan.

“President Musharraf is following the agenda of Jews and Americans. The agenda he (Musharraf) is following is anti-Pakistani, anti-people and anti-Islam.”

The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) Islamic coalition is at loggerheads with Musharraf over his power to dismiss parliament and his dual role as President and head of the army.

MMA parliamentarians have joined noisy protests in the National Assembly that have interrupted the political process.

Fazal-ur Rehman, head of another key MMA faction, warned Musharraf not to compromise on Israel.

“If the Musharraf government makes any attempt to recognise Israel then the whole Pakistani nation will throw it out of power,” he said in Multan.

But an opinion poll by Geo-TV found that roughly half of the Pakistanis questioned were willing to review Israeli ties.

It was not clear how many people were questioned.

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