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The Saudi connection

The Saudi connection

Author: Zafar Hilaly
Publication: The News
Date: September 04, 2009
URL: http://www.thenews.com.pk/print1.asp?id=196477

Deposed and discredited Pakistani leaders can always bank on being rescued by the Saudis. First it was Nawaz Sharif, he was plucked from Musharaf's clutches, and now it is Musharaf himself. Hopefully, Mr Zardari will also be able to bank on the Saudis if things go wrong. However, the bar in his case may be higher, for obvious reasons, the kind in which Agha Shahi's candidature for the OIC Secretary General's post was vetoed by the Saudis.

It's a pity that an innocent, newly-married Pakistani couple, now in a Saudi prison facing decapitation if convicted, have not as yet benefited from a similar humanitarian concern. Strange are the ways of the Saudis. They abhor political assassinations but not judicial murder. Hence there was no royal plane when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was being lynched by their favourite dictator. The British too insisted that they had a right to decide who should hang or go free in undivided India. Back then, we didn't have a choice because we were a colony. Today, we once again have no option though we claim we are free.

From a juncture when a former custodian was told politely to not come to Pakistan because of Mr Jinnah's preoccupations, we have reached a point where our leaders are summoned to make an appearance which they dare not refuse. The reason, of course, is their deplorable sense of self-worth, the dismal manner in which they have governed and the sorry pass to which they have reduced the economy. Grovelling for Saudi dole outs, be it discounted oil or F-16s, we dance to the tune of the piper in Riyadh or Washington. When asked to jump, we never ask why but only how high.

Ironically, it all started with Mr Bhutto. Keen to benefit his people from the petro-dollars boom in 1973, he began the courtship of Saudi Arabia in earnest. Later, he dragged in the Saudi Ambassador to referee his fight with the PNA in 1977. Earlier, he had badgered the Saudis to allow the Imam of the Prophet's (PBUH) mosque at Madina and the imam of the mosque at Ka'aba to visit Pakistan to preach to adoring audiences; which according to an ISI report submitted to Mr Bhutto helped Mr Bhutto steal the thunder from the PNA. The ISI, we late discovered, was wrong once again.

Since then, the Saudis have become increasingly embroiled in our domestic affairs, but not, one suspects, out of choice. Who, after all, would want to acquire the headache of fashioning one's wit out of so many half wits?

The Saudis have counselled successive regimes on how to run the country although judging by the results, all were poor listeners. Private Saudi citizens too have shown a propensity for dabbling in Pakistani politics, the most notable being Osama bin Laden who agreed to fund an assassination attempt against Benazir Bhutto and then connived to support a no-confidence motion against the PPP in 1989.

Prior to that, the Saudis had generously supported the Mujahaideen in their brave fight against the Soviets. No doubt, they would have done so regardless of whether or not their mentor and ours, the United States, had wanted it. It is quite another matter that stemming from that decision, Pakistan now finds herself in the grip of an onslaught of terror that no country has ever confronted; and much of it at the hands of the son, younger brothers and, on occasions, of the same mujahideen who the Saudis funded through their favourite Pakistani dictator.

Luckily, the official Saudi interest in Pakistan has mostly been a benevolent one. The custodian's family at least oozes good will for Pakistan. They regard our strength as their own. The Islamic bomb gives them as much joy as it does us. But how can it guarantee Saudi security because it is inconceivable that our weapons will be used for the defence of anyone but ourselves?

About the only malevolence the Saudis have ever displayed towards anything belonging to Pakistan has been towards our Houbara Bustards which they massacre at will every winter during hunting season.

There are legion instances when successive custodians have come to our assistance by putting in a word here and there on our behalf with countries where their oil gives them leverage or where Islamic bonds exist. Much of the munificence that has come our way from the Gulf States also came initially as a result of Saudi prodding. The OIC, basically a Saudi show, also extends loans for projects at the behest of Riyadh.

Pakistan has tried to reciprocate by sending our army to guard the Saudis but here again, apart from the psychological comfort the custodians may have gained from such a deployment, one is hard pushed to discern the threat. Of course, in Jordan one of our officers, none other than Ziaul Haq, enthusiastically participated in a war against the Palestinians, people for whom we profess as much love as we do for the Jordanian monarchy. It is small wonder then that many countries of the ummah take our Islamic brotherhood peens with a pinch of salt. A similarly dramatic display of a mismatch between word and action happened at the time of Suez (1956). On that occasion, we sided with the infidels against Muslims.

But what has outweighed all benefits the Saudi equation has brought has been the export to Pakistan of their creed, that is, Wahabism. This has proved deadly. As interpreted and practised in some madrassas in Pakistan, Wahabism has wrought havoc on Pakistan's social structure, producing an army of bigots who believe that the ultimate simplification of life is murder. They revel in killing and make no distinction between friend and foe when it comes to achieving their purpose.

In the several thousand nurseries of hate which have sprung up in Pakistan, thanks to generous private Saudi funding which the government is no longer capable of shutting off or controlling, lies a deadly weapon far more dangerous than a bomb. This lethal weapon has a weak delivery system at present, hence the greatest danger that it poses is at the point of manufacture, namely, Saudi Arabia, but more so Pakistan, where their numbers are greatest. However, in due course, as their endeavours become more effective and gather strength, they will loom more threateningly. It is to this threat, rather than the fate of a discredited and desperate trigger happy commando, that both countries should pay attention.

- The writer is a former ambassador

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