PARIS -- His Excellency Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq, the semiretired dictator of Pakistan, is hosting His Excellency Kurt Waldheim, the forgetful president of Austria, this week in a meeting that deserves diplomacy's equivalent of an X-rating.
Waldheim's insensitivity was world class long before he returned to Austria to get himself elected as figurehead president. In clinging so tenaciously to the trappings of office and the "duty" of representing Austria abroad, he has become Master of the Universe in this category.
He will go anywhere he can get himself invited. His motivation at least is clear. Less easy to understand is the reasoning of the leaders who are extending invitations to him these days. All but one are Moslems, and all are apparently oblivious to the heavy costs involved for them in playing Waldheim's game.
By hosting the former Nazi soldier whose falsifications about his whereabouts and duties during World War II have been so easily punctured, Zia undermines his own claims that his violent denunciations of Israel are totally free of anti-Semitism.
Similar protestations by the eight other leaders -- seven of them Moslems -- whom Waldheim's office lists as having extended invitations for a visit by the former U.N. secretary general are also made more suspect.
However they view the merits of the controversy surrounding Waldheim's wartime careerism, these Moslem leaders cannot escape the symbolic dimension it has now assumed. A visit from Waldheim to any of them is a needless gesture that can only widen the gulf between the Moslem world and Jews in Israel and elsewhere.
The welcome mats have been rolled out in Jordan, which Waldheim visited in July, and offered by Egypt, Syria, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Libya, Iran and Uganda for the future, Waldheim's office says.
This host list can only harden attitudes and increase suspicions where there is already a surfeit. Even Egypt, the only Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, treats Waldheim as if he were just another Excellency.
Such indifference provides ammunition for those who argue that there is a bedrock of religious animosity in Islam toward Jews that will always prevent Arab nations from accepting genuine peace with Israel.
But it does much more than that. It renders hollow the arguments of these rulers that they oppose Israel only because of Zionism's expansionism and lawlessness, and not because it is a nation of Jews.
Most fundamentally, it discredits the moral position the Arabs have always taken in asking Americans and Europeans what is for them a logical and overriding question: "Why us?"
That is, why was Palestine taken from the Arabs to create the Jewish home originally promised by the British in the Balfour declaration issued 70 years ago this month? Moreover, Europeans, not Arabs, visited the tragedy of the Holocaust on the Jews.
The argument is expressed eloquently by George Antonius in his book "The Arab Awakening," where he writes: "The relief of Jewish distress may not be accomplished at the cost of inflicting a corresponding distress upon an innocent and peaceful population."
The Moslem embrace of Waldheim, seemingly ignoring his role in rekindling the fears and shadows of the Nazi years for many Jews, does incalculable damage to such sentiments by establishing a sinister historical reference that links the Holocaust to unmitigated opposition to Israel.
Zia's reception of Waldheim contains none of the symbolism of the possibility of forgiveness that was implicit in Pope John Paul II's decision to receive Waldheim last June. The pope's failure to confront Waldheim publicly about his lack of atonement was deeply disappointing to those of us who expected such action from the pontiff. But his strong moral authority stands in such stark contrast to Waldheim's attitudes that the meeting was still a powerful, and useful, symbol.
The feting of Waldheim by countries involved in open conflict with Israel is as offensive as it would be for West Germany to shower him with gemuetlichkeit. Bonn has understood this moral imperative and has turned aside Waldheim's repeated expressions of interest in an exchange of state visits. It is only one of many welcome mats that should stay tightly furled.
FOOTNOTE: Several readers have kindly pointed out that I failed to make completely clear in a column last week my admiration for Nabisco, the origi- nator of Malted Shreddies, for being one U.S. company that has adapted to the multinational marketing game.