The Middle East is awash with whispers and speculations! After the UAE-Israel deal, Bahrain and Sudan have followed suit. Next in line maybe Morocco and Oman. The grapevine also has it that not only the Saudis gave tacit approval of the UAE-Israel deal but also that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) recently met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu along with an intelligence contingent from both sides. The changing winds in the region leaves Pakistan in a quandary – to normalise or not to normalise relations with Israel? The answer is not that straight forward. Consider. Not unlike the UAE and other Gulf states, Pakistan is also rumoured to have been in contact with Israel in the past albeit occasionally. Though, recent geostrategic calculations also show how difficult it is for Pakistan to officially go towards a full blown normalisation exercise with the Jewish state! This is mostly down to two major reasons. First, accepting the current scenario means that Pakistan will have to jettison its long held foreign policy tenet of equating the Palestinian struggle to the plight of the people in Indian controlled Kashmir. In the current climate, this particular shift in foreign policy is a non-starter. Imran Khan and his government have taken a very staunch but yet nationalistic position on the Kashmiri cause. The Prime Minister has gone as far as to call these deals with Israel ‘pointless’ because they completely abandon other Pan-Islamic causes such as Palestine and Kashmir. He has been the most vocal about revocation of Article 370 and Article 35A of the Indian Constitution that granted autonomous status to Kashmir in the past. The political cost, and the ramifications thereof, of rolling back this narrative and embarking on a normalisation course with Israel is very high for the Pakistani government. At best – the majority of the population, including Imran Khan’s own supporter, will abhor such a move. At worst – the minority can indulge in violent clashes on the streets and cause heightened security risks for the state and people of Pakistan. An example of such a street protest – albeit largely peaceful – was on show when the UAE- Israel deal was struck! The ultimate consequence would be a weakened government that falls prey to the opposition or, worse yet, hard-line factions inside or outside the different political parties. It turns out that Pakistan has a very tight rope to walk! In philosophy and theoretical physics, there is an oft used concept known as Occam’s Razor This is something that all stakeholders – including the all-powerful establishment – will wish to avoid. Second, Pakistan’s recent tilt towards Iran and Turkey throws a spanner in any normalisation scenario with Israel. Saudi and other Gulf States have made a lot of effort to interrupt the nascent bonhomie between Pakistan and Iran. In recent years, Pakistan has seen Muslim countries in the Middle East coalesce towards India and thus has been interested in developing ties with Iran. The one country that backs its narrative on Kashmir and shares its reservations on Indian designs in the region. Any normalisation of ties with Israel would effectively mean that Pakistan has deserted Iran – which, considering recent geopolitical shifts – Pakistan won’t want to do. Furthermore, in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Imran Khan has found a similarly inclined leader who shares his view on the previous glories of Islamic Empires and the future necessity of forging a strategic partnership. So much so, that Imran Khan is asking the Pakistani people to watch recently created Turkish dramas that fictionalise and exalt many aspects of the Ottoman Empire in Turkey! Just like Iran, Turkey has also raised the Kashmir issue at the UN General Assembly. Also, the Turkish contingent supported Pakistan unequivocally at the recent Financial Action Task Force (FATF) plenary. While the aforementioned analysis advises that a full blown normalisation is not possible, the following suggests that there maybe reasons still that can lead to it. In recent times, Pakistan has financially become one of the mostly heavily indebted nations in the world. Most of this debt is owned by China, Saudi and UAE. And along with indebtedness, comes leverage! Which can be used to cajole Pakistan on a normalisation journey towards Israel. Additionally, Pakistani remittances from UAE and Saudi are almost an eye-watering $4 Billion annually! This represents approximately 50% of the total yearly remittances to Pakistan. This makes Pakistan further susceptible to foreign and diplomatic pressures to open up a normalisation dialogue with the state of Israel. A recent example of how this leverage works is when Pakistan called out the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) leadership (read: Saudi) on weak support on Kashmir and Riyadh quickly asked for early payment of $2 billion out of $3 billion worth of outstanding loans and ended $3.2 billion worth of oil deliveries granted on deferred payment. Cash, it turns out, is still king! Till date, all Middle East deals with Israel have gone ahead with Saudi blessing. If MBS gives the nod, Pakistan unwittingly could be next in line. Moreover, just like UAE and Bahrain, Pakistan has not been in physical conflict with Israel. Thus, the expectation is that the normalisation will bear more fruit than the Israeli deals with Egypt and Jordan; two countries that were involved in armed struggle with the Jewish state. It turns out that Pakistan has a very tight rope to walk! In philosophy and theoretical physics, there is an oft used concept known as Occam’s Razor. This principle states that all things being equal, the simplest and realistic answer is the truth. For Pakistan, considering all things, the risks and detriment of a full blown normalisation course with Israel outweigh the fruits of closer ties and ultimate recognition of the Jewish state. Therefore, the simplest answer for Imran Khan is to take small and measured steps that may placate forces on both sides of the divide. Not easy, granted but then again diplomacy is only the art of the possible! And a policy can exist in the grey, between the black and the white! Whether Pakistan does that or not, it is imperative to remember two undeniable concepts in diplomacy. One, there is no morality in international relations. Two, there are no permanent friends or enemies but only permanent national interests. Thus, regardless of the policy decision, the government of the day must define what is vital and crucial to the survival and wellbeing of Pakistan and stop latching to abstract concepts like one Ummah. As far as allies and foes are concerned – there will always be room to manoeuvre between the bottom line and the diplomatic line!