Pak PM Imran Khan’s aide made secret visit to Israel: Report

Updated on Jun 28, 2021 06:58 PM IST

The report said Sayed Zulfi Bukhari, who lives in the UK, arrived at Ben Gurion airport from Islamabad on a connecting flight to London in the last week of November, taking advantage of his British passport

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan. (File photo)
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan. (File photo)
ByRezaul H Laskar

A former aide of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan made a secret visit to Israel last November for meetings with foreign ministry officials and the then Mossad chief, according to an Israeli media report on Monday.

Sayed Zulfi Bukhari, a British Pakistani businessman who served as Khan’s special assistant on overseas Pakistanis till May this year, conveyed a message from the Pakistani premier to Israeli foreign ministry officials and another message from Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa to then Israeli spy chief Yossi Cohen, Israel Hayom newspaper reported.

The report said Bukhari, who lives in the UK, arrived at Ben Gurion airport from Islamabad on a connecting flight to London in the last week of November, taking advantage of his British passport. He travelled to Tel Aviv for the meetings and the Pakistan-Israel contacts were the outcome of “heavy pressure from the UAE”, the report added.

Bukhari denied the report in a tweet. “DID NOT go to Israel. Funny bit is Pakistani paper says I went to Israel based on ‘Israeli news source’ & Israeli paper says I went to Israel based on a ‘Pakistani source’ – wonder who this imaginative Pakistani source is,” he tweeted, referring to reports in the Pakistani and Israeli media about the matter.

“Apparently, I’m the only one who was kept out of the loop,” Bukhari added.

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In December 2020, Israel Hayom had reported about a secret visit to Israel by a “senior adviser to the leader of a large Muslim-majority country” despite the two countries having no diplomatic relations. At the time, the newspaper didn’t name the Muslim country involved.

On Monday, Israel Hayom identified the country as Pakistan after getting clearance from the Israeli military censor. Monday’s reported cited a source in Islamabad.

The visit to Tel Aviv by the Pakistani official came against the backdrop of key Muslim countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco normalising relations with Israel and a debate within Pakistan’s political and diplomatic circles about re-evaluating the country’s position on Israel. However, Khan had said in an interview in August last year that Pakistan “cannot ever accept Israel as long as Palestinians are not given their rights and there is no just settlement”.

Khan had appointed Bukhari as his special assistant on overseas Pakistanis and human resource development a month after assuming office in September 2018. Bukhari, who had the status of a minister of state, resigned from the post on May 17 this year following allegations that he had illegally benefited from changes made to the Rawalpindi Ring Road project.

Bukhari had denied allegations that he had received financial benefits because his land was located near the project.

Israel Hayom’s report would suggest this was the first formal contact between Pakistan and Israel since the era of former military dictator Pervez Musharraf. At Musharraf’s initiative and with backing from Pakistan’s ally Turkey, then Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri met his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom in the Turkish city of Istanbul on September 1, 2005.

People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that the Pakistan-Israel contacts in 2005 had not led to any substantial engagement and had subsequently fizzled out.

In a statement issued by the Israeli foreign ministry in 2005, Shalom had described his meeting with Kasuri as “historic” and said Israeli hoped it would “herald the beginning of an open and mutually beneficial relationship” between the two countries. Shalom also thanked Musharraf “for his courage in promoting peace and moderation in our region”.

There was no official word from the Pakistan government on the issue.

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