By K. Gajendra Singh
January 3, 2007
"History is ruled by an inexorable determinism in which the free choice of major historical figures plays a minimal role", Leo Tolstoy
When the powerful US Vice-President Dick Cheney made a rare long haul to Riyadh in November, reportedly it was to create against Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon, a new US led Sunni alliance in the region, composed of the six Gulf Co-operation Council states, pro-US Arab governments in Cairo and Amman and willing NATO allies with covert support from Israel.
On 12 December the New York Times claimed that according to US and Arab diplomats, Cheney was told that Riyadh might provide financial backing to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq's Shias if the United States pulled out its troops. The Saudi King Abdullah also expressed strong opposition to any diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran and demanded that Washington encourage the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Saudi position reflected fears among USA's Sunni Arab allies at Tehran's increasing influence in Iraq with its ally the Lebanese Hezbollah getting the better of Israeli ground forces coupled with Tehran's nuclear ambitions. King Abdullah II of Jordan had earlier expressed concern about the rising Shia influence and warned of the emergence of a Shia crescent from Iran via Syria to Lebanon .Riyadh also warned of the prospect of a Shia dominated Iraq government using its troops against the Sunni population. Saudi Arabia supports a Government of unity in Baghdad. The New York Times added that the Saudi King told Cheney: "if you retreat and it comes to an ethnic cleaning against the Sunnis, we will feel like we are being dragged into the war".
Saudi officials and the White House both denied the reports. "That's not Saudi government policy," the White House press secretary, Tony Snow, told reporters. "The Saudis have made it clear that they're committed to the same goals we are, which is a self-sustaining Iraq that can sustain, govern and defend itself, that will recognize and protect the rights of all, regardless of sect or religion," he added, "And furthermore, they share our concerns about the role the Iranians are playing in the region."
But Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution told CNN that Saudi Arabia had strong motivation to take sides in a civil war. "They're terrified that civil war will spill over into Saudi Arabia. But they're also terrified that the Iranians, backing the various Shia militias in Iraq, will come out the big way"
A more muscular Saudi role to counter Iran?
Soon after Cheney's visit, writing in Washington Post of 29 November, Nawaf Obaid, a senior National Security Adviser to the Saudi Ambassador in Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal, cited a February 2003 letter from the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, which had warned President George Bush that he would "solve one problem and create five more" by ousting Saddam Hussein by force and referred to a recent statement by Ambassador al-Faisal, that "since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited."
Obaid argued that this view was based on requests to the Saudi leadership from senior Iraqi tribal and religious figures, along with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and other Arab and Muslim countries (Sunnis) to provide Iraqi Sunnis with weapons and financial support and a more muscular role for the Kingdom in the region. "As the economic powerhouse of the Middle East, the birthplace of Islam and the de facto leader of the world's Sunni community (which comprises 85 percent of all Muslims) , Saudi Arabia has both the means and the religious responsibility to intervene."
If it does, one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed Shia militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis.
Options included the establishment of new Sunni brigades and providing Sunni military leaders (primarily ex-Baa'thist members of the former Iraqi officer corps, the backbone of the insurgency) with funding, arms and logistical support -- that Iran has been giving to Shia armed groups for years. Saudi Arabia could throttle Iranian funding of the militias by boosting oil production and cutting the price of oil in half, which would be devastating to Iran, and its ability to finance Shia militias in Iraq and elsewhere. (Kuwait’s flooding of oil market at western behest and throttling Iraq's revenues led to Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait in 1990. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia paid heavy financial, political and other costs. This time around it would be fatal with USA caught in Iraqi quagmire. US public has little stomach for the Iraq war and US Army as many generals have proclaimed has almost broken down.)
"Remaining on the sidelines would be unacceptable to Saudi Arabia. To turn a blind eye to the massacre of Iraqi Sunnis would be to abandon the principles upon which the kingdom was founded and would undermine Saudi Arabia's credibility in the Sunni world and would be a capitulation to Iran's militarist actions in the region."
Obaid concluded "To be sure, Saudi engagement in Iraq carries great risks -- it could spark a regional war. So be it. The consequences of inaction are far worse."
In Saudi tradition, the Kingdom denied that Obaid's Oped in Washington Post represented their view point and he was dismissed. Soon there after Ambassador Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi Security Chief returned home after 15 months only, where as his predecessor had served for 20 years. The Ambassador was not present in Riyadh during Cheney's visit.
Keeping low profile and denial plausibility is a common Saudi policy. The representatives of over 7000 princes who rule Saudi Arabia by seniority and consensus may have differences on policy especially between the aged conservative old guard and the younger princes, but the dynasty is in a bind and faces the greatest ever challenge in its history.
In general after 911 and anti-Saudi tirades in USA, the Kingdom has looked around for other anchors. Saudi relationship with China, beginning with the purchase of CSS-2 missiles in 1989, has developed steadily with Beijing identified as a big future market for Saudi oil. Relations with Moscow have improved. King Abdullah also visited New Delhi, a first. Both Tehran and Riyadh took measures to ease relations but the fall out from the quagmire after the US invaded Iraq has made the situation very tricky which can not be muddled through by old methods of patience or cheque book diplomacy.
Recognizing Turkey's importance in the region, Saudi King Abdullah visited Ankara in end November, first such visit in 4 decades. With a secular constitution, Turkey with a majority Sunni population (15% are Shia Alevis) is also deeply worried about the possible break up of Iraq and its consequences and Iran's rising profile, its historic enemy .While exchanging views with Jordan, Syria ,Iraq , Qatar, Bahrain, Pakistan and Russia, Ankara has shared worries with Tehran about an independent north Kurdish Iraq. NATO allies Ankara and Washington have quite different views on Middle East.
In early December Turkish Prime minister Recep Erdogan expressed opposition to redeployment of U.S. troops in northern Iraq, "I personally find the redeployment of U.S. troops in northern Iraq wrong since there is no security problem in the region. The U.S. should keep its soldiers on the problematic areas in Iraq," Erdogan told journalists on his way to Tehran. Both Ankara and Tehran have troublesome relations with their Kurdish people. Ankara received a Hamas delegation much to US chagrin. Erdogan condemned Israel attacks on Lebanon in deeply emotional terms. He would soon hold talks with the Arab League in Cairo, another first.
Like the camel and the Arab in the fable , apart from its front feet firmly planted in the Iraqi tent, through Shia SCIRI and Dawa Party and even factions in the Mahdi Army .Tehran financed , trained and arms supplied Hezbollah in Lebanon gave a bloody nose to the famed Israeli commando units in ground warfare in the last July-August war in south Lebanon , for ever denting the so called aura of Israeli invincibility built after the 6 day Arab defeat in 1967 war and later built up on threats to use nuclear bombs and total US led western support ;financially, militarily and politically.
Israel possesses hundreds of nuclear bombs and has means to deliver them. Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert even admitted as much publicly, though inadvertently. New US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, during the Congress hearings for his confirmation also referred to Israeli Nukes. But Israeli (& US) opposition to Iran even enriching Uranium for power generation is almost fanatical. According to Tel Aviv propaganda Iran creating a Nuke is just a matter of time while US estimates range from 5 to 10 years.
Teheran is sitting pretty. Iranian leaders are gloating at US entrapment in Iraq. "The kind of service that the Americans, with all their hatred, have done us — no superpower has ever done anything similar," Mohsen Rezai, secretary-general of the powerful Expediency Council that advises the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei, boasted on state television recently.
"America destroyed all our enemies in the region. It destroyed the Taliban. It destroyed Saddam Hussein… The Americans got so stuck in the soil of Iraq and Afghanistan that if they manage to drag themselves back to Washington in one piece, they should thank God. America presents us with an opportunity rather than a threat — not because it intended to, but because it miscalculated. They made many mistakes".
US and the West did persuade Russia and China on milder sanctions against Iran in a UN Resolution on 23 December on Iranian enrichment of Uranium, which Iran has rejected. But it is Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty 's 5 recognized nuclear armed powers with veto in the Security Council who have killed the treaty, having taken no steps towards disarmament, its first objective and violating other articles against UN General Assembly resolutions and the opinion of the Hague International Court .
Instead, they are building a new range of nukes for 'conventional 'use. North Korea's nuclear bomb only proves the disarray in NPT and its irrelevance. Elder US statesman Jimmy Carter squarely blames US for this situation. Now the Gulf Council and other Arab countries like Egypt and Algeria want to embark on uranium enrichment like Iran. Their decades long fears and opposition to Israeli Nukes, developed with French and British help and US acquiescence if not support are vetoed by US both in New York and Vienna. Bullies rule the world on an increasingly lawless planet.
The long and bloody 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war was basically a Sunni Shia conflict, in which Saddam Hussein was encouraged, supported, financed by all Sunni Arab governments (except Syria), specially Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Emirates and Western powers to neutralize the awesome rising Shia power and its aspirations to transform the Islamic world in the wake of the 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini led revolution in Iran. Millions of Iraqi and Iranian Muslims were killed in that war. Compared to that war, the coming Shia-Sunni conflagration, which could be encouraged by a desperate US led West would be a veritable holocaust for the region and Muslims. And Washington could even succeed but it would be a catastrophe for the world including the energy dependent West.
The Sunni-Shia divide is too deep rooted and plays out daily in most Muslim countries. Shias form the underclass in most Sunni ruled states, but after 1979 have felt inspired and aided by Iran, have become empowered in Lebanon and elsewhere. The oil rich western Saudi Arabia, adjoining Shia Southern Iraq, is populated by Shias, who have remained very much repressed up to now.
The Shia Sunni conflict can not be stopped by Fatwas. One was issued last October in Mecca, where a 10-point "Makkah Document" was issued by 29 clerics from both sides of Iraq's religious divide when they gathered during Ramadan under an initiative by the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Drawing on the verses of the Quran and sayings of the Prophet Mohammed, the Fatwa declared that "spilling Muslim blood is forbidden". It also called for safeguarding the two communities' holy places, defending the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq and the release of "all innocent detainees".
But, even then most experts, including Muslims were not optimistic about the efficacy. Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of the London-based Arabic daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, said that the religious leaders' appeal for the bloodshed to cease was likely to fall on deaf ears. It can be seen in daily blood bath in Iraq, in the Islamic world and through out its history.
Middle East Oil History
A study of western imperialism since end 19th century underlines the importance of oil and wars waged to acquire and protect these wells of power. The secret British 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain and France divided the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East with the British cleverly keeping oil producing territories and even creating an artificial state like Kuwait. In 1945, before a declining Britain was divested of its colonies, USA signed a memo with the British: "Our petroleum policy towards the United Kingdom is predicated on a mutual recognition of a very extensive joint interest and upon control, at least for the moment, of the great bulk of the free petroleum resources of the world. The British government noted that the Middle East was "a vital prize for any power interested in world influence or domination", since control of the world's oil reserves also meant control of the world economy. After the decline of UK and France, US stepped in as the dominant neo-colonial power in the region and elsewhere.
"One of the basic policies of the United States in the Near East is unqualifiedly to support the territorial integrity and political independence of Saudi Arabia". Its goals were expressed in a 1953 internal U.S. document: "United States policy is to keep the sources of oil in the Middle East in American hands." (Quoted in Mohammed Heikal in 'Cutting the lion's tail'.) In 1958, a secret British document described the principal objectives of Western policy in the Middle East "to ensure free access for Britain and other Western countries to oil produced in States bordering the Gulf; (b) to ensure the continued availability of that oil on favourable terms and for surplus revenues of Kuwait; (c) to bar the spread of Communism and pseudo-Communism in the area and subsequently to defend the area against the brand of Arab nationalism.
Chomsky states that western energy corporations have flourished with "profits beyond the dreams of avarice" with "the Middle East (ME) their leading cash cow." It was part of grand US strategy based on control of what the State Department described 60 years ago as the "stupendous source of strategic power" of ME oil and the immense wealth from this unparalleled "material prize"? US has substantially maintained that control -- -- (but) those extraordinary successes had to overcome plenty of barriers: as elsewhere in the world, what internal documents call "radical nationalism," meaning independent nationalism.
US-Ibn Saud family–Wahabi nexus
The Saudi state, proclaimed by Abdulaziz in 1932 was in fact the third al-Saud Kingdom. The first Saudi "state" was founded in 1744 by the first great al-Saud leader Muhammad ibn Saud who made the historic alliance with the religious reformer Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahab, the founder of "Wahabism"). After its defeat by Egyptian forces in 1818, it rose anew in 1822 and survived as the dominant power in central Arabia. Of 14 successions within the al-Saud dynasty between 1744 and 1891, only three were peaceful. The transfer of power nowadays is more peaceful.
Abdul Aziz was encouraged by the British to take over Mecca and Medina as Sharif Hussain the ruler of Mecca, great grandfather of King Abdullah II of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, was not so pliable to the British demands and interests. Remember the Arab revolt led by Sharif Hussein and his sons, Emirs Faisal and Abdullah, as depicted in film 'Lawrence of Arabia', which helped the British forces under Gen Allenby to defeat the Ottoman forces in the region, So much for the British gratitude, Of course when Kemal Ataturk abolished the Caliphate, Sharif Hussain offered to take over the mantle.
Abdulaziz took many brides to co-opt one or another tribe or to mend relations with them. A sternly devout Muslim he never had more than four legal wives at a time. The pact between Wahhab clan and the house of Saud was sealed with multiple marriages. The links between Saudi family and Wahhabi followers have remained durable. The Saudi minister of religion is always a member of the Al Sheikh family, descendants of Ibn Abdul Wahhab. The Wahhabis' sway over mosques is undoubted with their own religious police .They have extended their reach via networks of Madrasas and mosques throughout the Muslim world.
Wahhabism is extremely austere and rigid. It tolerates little dialogue and even less interpretation, frowns on idolatry, tombstones or the veneration of statues and artworks. Followers prefer to identify themselves as muwahhidun, which means "the unifiers." Wahhabis forbid smoking, shaving of beards, abusive language, rosaries and many rights for women. They regard all those who don't practice their form of Islam, including other Muslims, as heathens and enemies.
The Saud-Wahab nexus was simple when the Kingdom was poor. I saw some old files of 1920s and 1930s in External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi prior the oil era , when petty Indian Muslim Nawabs from Pataudi, Loharu and Chhatari statelets gave petty sums to top office holders in Jeddah, Mecca, Medina and Riyadh .The revenues earned from the annual Hajj pilgrimages was a major source of livelihood for the Kingdom's citizens and rulers .Some Arabs from the Gulf Kingdoms , who worked as porters at Mumbai ports and were engaged in gold smuggling to India , jumped bail when convicted. They have became multi-millionaires after the oil wealth and commissions from arms, expatriate workers deals and trade.
Saudi Arabia is a large country covering an area of 2.14 million sq. kms. Its population is nearly 22 million with a growth rate of 3.49 percent and life expectancy of 71 years. Over 50 percent of the population is below 20 years and 80 percent of the population lives in urban centres, consuming colossal amounts of power in air conditioning. It is no longer a Bedouin nation. The adult literacy rate is 75 percent but the antiquated education system has little relevance to the job market. Nearly 30 percent of the workforce is of foreign origin. With the recent increase in oil prices its financial situation has improved compared to a few years ago when it had the highest indebtedness in the Gulf: $ 171 billion in domestic loans and $35 billion in foreign credit, or 107 percent of its GDP.
Saudi anthropologist Mai Yamani’s survey of the views, hopes and fears of the 15-30 age group in 2000 found that the theme of identity "came increasingly to dominate and permeate the entire study". While remaining well embedded in religion, culture and traditions, most young people have been affected by the rapid transformation around them and question different aspects of the status quo. An identity of views has emerged "on the perceived shortcomings of the state" and the desire of the new generation "for space within Saudi society to develop their own attitudes and opinions without the overbearing presence of the state and the ulema". The overall picture is one of uneven progress and of complex emerging problems.
Saudi Arabians, like others, have been affected by imports from the West with many ardent advocates of modernization running headlong into problems of identity and authenticity, which generates a strong reaction strengthening the conservative elements who dominate the Kingdom. “The Saudi dilemma, of finding a balance, is therefore a real one and is compounded by the desire to protect the privileges of the royal family and their version of Islamic traditions,' says M.H. Ansari, former Indian Ambassador to Riyadh.
"In a monarchic system, national security has been synonymous with regime security and, for the greater part of a century, the continuity and stability provided by the Al-Saud family was viewed in benevolent terms by the public at home and by neighbours and friends abroad. The Saudi monarchy withstood the onslaught of Arab nationalism and radicalism, helped sustain the anti-communist crusade in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Ethiopia and elsewhere and used its enormous influence in the OPEC to keep the production and the price of crude oil at a level acceptable to the developed world. It also provided one of the biggest markets for the armament manufacturers of the western world, principally the United States.”
Oil was discovered in Saudi Arabia in 1938 by Standard Oil of California under a 50 year concession granted by Abdulaziz for an immediate payment of 30,000 gold sovereigns, veritably one of history's greatest bargains. When the extent of breathtakingly large reserves became evident, others like Exxon, Texaco and Mobil joined in to form the mighty Aramco consortium.
Since then a critical development has been the curious nexus between US, the extravagantly rich Saudi ruling elite and by extension the puritan Wahabis, In exchange for security of the dynasty the peninsula's oil wealth and revenues have been handed over for exploitation and benefit of the West led by USA. This nexus has stood the test of time with Washington doing everything possible to maintain the feudal regime with mediaeval practices. The regime controls "the largest family business" in the world without any popular mandate or accountability.
The Saud family-US nexus was anointed following President Franklin Roosevelt's meeting with the Saudi King aboard a warship in 1945, who said "I hereby find that the defence of Saudi Arabia is vital to the defence of the United States." Jimmy Carter, a later day saint, in 1980, put it even more forcefully: "Let our position be absolutely clear. An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States."
Washington backed that commitment with military treaties safeguarding the Middle East. Apart from NATO and CENTO, U.S. military bases are stretched into east Africa, the Indian Ocean, and the Gulf to protect Middle East oil. Then came the Rapid Deployment Force and the U.S. Central Command and the U.S. 5th Fleet, now based in Bahrain. The 1991 Gulf War led to a massive expansion of the U.S. military presence in the region, including US troops on the sacred Saudi soil, a major cause of anguish and deep resentment among conservative Saudi Muslims led by Osama ben Laden. US troops were shifted away only after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Massive Saudi Arms Purchases
Between 1990 to 2004, Saudi Arabia spent a whopping $ 268.6 billion dollars on Arms (United Arab Emirates; $38.6 billion with population of 2.6 million.) The Saudi arsenal has more than 1015 Tanks including 315 high quality M1A2s, over 5000+ APCs/ AFVs, 780 artillery pieces, over 2000 anti-tank missile launchers, over 340 high quality combat aircrafts including F15S/C/Ds and Tornados, with 48 Typhoons (Euro -fighter) to be delivered in 2008. On top of this they own over 228 helicopters, 160 training and liaison aircrafts and 51 transport aircrafts. Saudi navy operates over 27 major combat vessels including missile frigates and missile corvette.
Kuwait spent $ 73.1 billion dollars (population 1.1 million ), but writes Dr. Abbas Bakhtiar , a consultant and a former associate professor at Nord land University, Norway, " When Iraqis crossed the border on August 2, 1990, the Kuwaiti generals used their mobile phones to gather all the top ranking military officers in a convoy and drove to Saudi Arabia. The only soldiers who actually put-up some resistance were the military students who had not been warned." Similar stories were heard in Amman where I was then posted (1989-92).
In 1979 when the holy Mecca mosque was taken over by Islamic militants, it were the French commando who took them out.
These three countries (Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Kuwait) combined, have spent over $380 billion dollars in 14 years. Iranian military expenditure was $49.5 billion dollars for the same period and India's; $156 billion dollar, with a population of over 1 billion people and with unsettled borders and other problems with Pakistan and China.
Anthony H. Cordesman and Arleigh A. Burke of Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in a report on Saudi security problems (2002), stated:
"There should never be another set of massive arms package deals with the US or Europe of the kind that took place during the Gulf War or a purchase like Al Yamama. Barring a future major war, purchases should be made and justified on a case-by-case basis, off budget and oil barter deals should be illegal, and all offset deals subject to annual public reporting with an independent accountant and auditor. Saudi Arabia must also take every possible step to eliminate the waste of funds –"
On December 2005, The Guardian reported the signing of a multi-billion dollar sale contract for the Typhoons or Euro-fighters. The interesting thing about the sale was the reference to global terrorism. The British MoD claimed that the key objectives of the two governments were with regard to national security and actions to combat global terrorism."
In 2005 out of its income of $133.5bn from the oil business Saudi Arabia spent $38.5bn on defence. Some of the $57.1bn surplus went to pay off the enormous 1991 Gulf War debt Saudi to the West. The rest into US Treasury bonds and other capital markets in the West. The media reported that the princes take personal commissions on big arms and trade deals and their money - estimated in total at $ one Trillion - is invested mostly in the West. By some estimates, as much of 40 percent of Saudi Arabia's oil revenues go straight into the pockets of the ruling family. Tariq Ali called it institutionalized loot of public funds.
UK's Serious Fraud Office has been stopped in its tracks when it unearthed huge bribes paid to Saudi intermediary princes in UK-Saudi defence deals by Prime Minister Tony Blair and UK's Chief Law officer Goldsmith, who can be relied on a government dictated verdict whether on corruption or the legality of US –UK invasion of Iraq. Because the Saudis simply threatened to cancel billions dollars Al Yamama deals. Transparency International, while listing corruption in poor countries around the world says little about big bribe givers and takers.
It is true that the Americans fiddled with aerial photographs of Iraqi troops dispositions in 1990 to frighten the Saudis that Saddam Husain planned attacking the Kingdom, but perhaps it was the pervasive feeling of insecurity which made the Kingdom to let in the Americans with permanent adverse consequences for the region .Saudi efforts to later find a peaceful withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait were brushed aside by USA. They had come to stay on for a long time.
Western governments , banks and oil corporations have got used to playing around with the Arab oil wealth , which they called recycling and charged for it , while 'recycling' of their own funds becomes investment .When a resurgent Russia under Vladimir Putin now wants to control its oil resources with Gazprom acquiring a stake of 50 percent plus one share in the $20 billion Sakhalin-2 gas project from Shell, Mitsui, and Mitsubishi, and flush with petro-money Moscow wants to invest in downside business in Western Europe and perhaps USA ( the Chinese were not allowed to buy into UNOCAL- what shall China do with its one Trillion US dollars - or Dubai based company in running of US ports ) there is chorus of protests and hue and cry from the West .
When Russia wants to charge market price for its gas piped to Ukraine and Georgia, who have gone out of their way to hurt Russian interests and worse ,the free marketers from the West say 'not done '. Why! Or if a Pro Western Russian Oligarch is asked to pay taxes, western media is let loose against Russia, its democracy and human rights .Why! It is not hypocrisy but sheer chicanery. Russia refuses to become like USA, which is not a republic of the people but a corporation, where the ruling military-industry complex is leading to its Enron-isation –bankruptcy.
At the same time secrecy and fear permeate every aspect of the state structure in Saudi Arabia, and most Gulf Kingdoms .They lack political parties, trades unions, workers safety or immigrant rights advocates, women's groups, or other such democratic organizations. There are few legal associations or organizations to ensure a fair and independent judicial process. So, political and religious opponents can be detained indefinitely without trial or imprisoned after grossly unfair trials. Torture is endemic, and foreign workers, particularly non-Muslims are most at risk. UK government has kept quiet when many of its citizens have been judged to be tortured, for the sake of profits from oil and military sales. And bribes (also across the Atlantic in USA so it was openly claimed by last Saudi Ambassador)
Threats from Within
Actually the threat to Saudi Arabia emanates from within with many attacks by Al Qaeda with large segments of a conservative population sympathetic to its cause. And the threat does not come only from the Jihadists. There are other sources of threat from within the general population. There were rebellions against the House of Saud by various Saudi groups in 1969, 1972, and 1979. Only approved loyal tribes can enter the military. Until late 1980s Pakistan provided a protection force of 11000 to 15000 troops to the Saudi government. After the relocation of US troops from Saudi Arabia to Qatar and elsewhere, the Saudis are again looking to Pakistan for troops as reported in the Financial Times. The military cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan old and broad based.
Majority of planes and other equipment is kept in order by Pakistani personnel with whom the Kingdom has very close defense relations. There have been many reports of Pak Saudi cooperation in the nuclear bomb technology .If Sunni Pakistani metallurgist Dr AQ Khan could peddle nuclear bombs know how to Libya and Shia Iran among others then why not to Saudi Arabia . There have been many such reports in the German media.
Saudi volunteers and finance are seen behind attacks on US from Iraq to North Africa. Saudi nationals have been active in the Iraqi resistance and have been involved in operations targeting the US-led coalition forces, the ragged Iraqi security forces, and Iraq's majority Shia population. The presence of Saudis in Iraq is of deep concern not just for Iraq and US , but also for the future security of Saudi Arabia and the smaller Persian Gulf states. The return of Saudi jihadis would revitalize the insurgency in the Kingdom. Experience in Iraq could alter the insurgent landscape in Saudi Arabia by introduction of new techniques, methods and operations. But the Saudis claim time and again after each Al Qaeda violence that it was the last one.
Yes, Saudi - and other Persian Gulf Arab Jihadis are highly sought after in Iraq as they bring large sums of cash. Recruiting affluent Saudis is a good method to finance terrorist operations. A confidential US report identified a Saudi participation in excess of 50%, while a jihadist Internet forum said that Saudis make up 44% of insurgents.( But US blames Syria all the time) What is extremely worrying is that of those Saudis who were detained and questioned on their return from Iraq, about 80% were unknown to the security services. So much for efficiency of the Saudi intelligence and security services. They will be a significant contributor to greater violence and domestic insurgency in Saudi Arabia. The Iraq war and the US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan have polarized large segments of the Saudi population.
High watermark of the alliance
With the inflow of big oil money into Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region after 1973 oil prices jump, the balance in religious matters and beliefs shifted away from the progressive versions of Islam that existed in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Algeria, to Saudi Arabia's Wahhabis' rigid version and tendencies. During my diplomatic posts in Cairo and Algeria in first half of 1960s, they were cosmopolitan tolerant Muslim societies. But after mid-1970s, it changed with the return of orthodoxy and veils and headscarves even among their diplomats. Thus regression to Wahhabi way of life among Muslims can be traced to the power and use of Saudi oil wealth to pander to Jihadis.
The high watermark of this unholy alliance reached full bloom when it was joined by most Muslim countries and many western Christian powers and even China to oust the Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1980s. Between $6 to $10 billion was spent in providing arms, training and other equipment by USA, Saudi Arabia and Gulf states and many others to train Mujahaddins, Jihadis , militants and terrorists ( Some were later taken by USA to Albania and Kosovo in 1990s and thus given international exposure.)
Pakistan President Zia-ul- Haq was a pariah till 1979 for having ousted Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and hanged him. But suddenly he became the darling of the West when he offered Pakistan space, facilities and soul for the Jihad in Afghanistan. To strengthen his position, Zia used the opportunity to Islamise Pakistan's polity for all time to come. Conservative and fundamentalist elements now dominate all aspects of Pakistan and have infiltrated in its Armed Forces with the experience and association during training and organizing Mujahaddin , Jihadi and terrorist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan ,specially by its Inter-services-intelligence (ISI) in collaboration with CIA and other intelligence agencies from Muslim countries and the West .A state within a state, ISI established in depth and broad relations with Mujahideen leaders, Al Qaeda and later Taleban leaders which will transform the course of history in Pakistan and the region , with long lasting ramifications for the world . Talebans were created by Pakistan, with help and open recognition by Saudi Arabia and encouraged by USA to pacify Afghanistan after the chaos in the wake of withdrawal of Soviet troops .US was interested in its UNOCAL using Afghan territory for gas and oil pipe lines to transport central Asian energy to the Arabian Sea coast and beyond and to energy hungry fast developing India.
Al Qaeda and Arab and Muslim Mujahaddin leaders and cadres trained in Pakistan and Afghanistan on return to their countries in Middle East spread that culture, which now threatens most of them and has seeped even into Europe, which hosts tens of millions of Muslims.
Saudi Arabia has always sent funds directly or through its charities to build mosques, aid and establish Madrasas spewing hate against non-Muslims, especially against Christians and other non-Muslims and even Shias. The great Jihad in Afghanistan was a big opportunity for Wahhabis. The Jihadis and Al Qaeda, created by Osama ben laden , have got it into their head that they alone defeated USSR , the number two Super power and now aim at taking on USA ,the hyper power. The animus against Washington was made easier to take roots after the stationing of US troops in conservative Saudi Arabia following the 1991 war which liberated Kuwait from Iraqi occupation.
Nexus under stress
This incongruent nexus has survived many stresses and strains like in 1970s when Saudi led Opec quadrupled the oil prices after the Egypt led 1973 Yom Kippur war on Israel .Washington even toyed about landing troops to take over oil wells in Saudi Arabia .Relations between USA and the Kingdom were really strained when Osama ben Laden , a representative of Saudi Kingdom in Pakistan to lead a Jihad against USSR in Afghanistan , after creating Al Qaeda ,carried out attacks on US embassies in east Africa. But the real denouement exploded on TV screens around the world when 15 of the hijackers who took over 4 US planes and attacked US symbols of power , the Trade Centre Towers and the Pentagon thus breaching the virginity of security of the US mainland . Even at that time with close entanglements between US energy interests led by the Bush family and others in the US ruling class, members of Osama ben Laden family were clandestinely evacuated from USA within hours of the 911 attacks.
In general, most Americans and US media seethed with fury with a storm of hostile articles against the Saudi Kingdom. They forgot that the chickens nurtured in Pakistan and Afghanistan had come home to roost .Instead of learning from 911 , Bush led administration in USA , driven by racist Staussian philosophy of Neo-Cons , first bombard Afghanistan , already destroyed - a victim of US-Soviet rivalry and battle field ,to establish US bases in Afghanistan , Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan ostensibly to counter terrorism .. US and UK with some other western nations then invaded Iraq to take control and exploit its oil resources and control the energy rich region from Baghdad ( now all that US controls is the Green Zone) .But US has built bases in Iraq for long term stay.
It was all part of Neo-cons plan called 'The New American Century ', whose bankruptcy has been exposed as conceived by arm chair experts ,most of whom happen to be Jews and basically promote Israeli interests. The Israelis to whom this kind of vision of domination was peddled had refused to buy it .They are happy that US lives and treasure is being spent to make Israel 'safer and secure' as it was after the earlier the 1991 war against Iraq.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser to US President Jimmy Carter's, now morphing into a saint, had gloated in Nouvel Observator of Paris that US plan to support the religious extremists in Afghanistan against the leftist government had brought in the Soviet troops leading to their defeat, and had revenged US defeat in Vietnam .It led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. He then added that if it produced some 'stirred Muslims 'so what '.That was , until the 'stirred Muslims' attacked US on 911 and London on 77 apart from terror attacks against Australians in Bali , in Spain and other places .India which was not part of the axis led by US-Saudi-Pak against Afghanistan and USSR , continues to suffer . Others not involved are also paying the price for the consequences of that unholy nexus and would continue to do so.
Washington has exploited the scare of Al Qaeda, which hardly existed in USA, to roll back freedom and democracy. While black Muslims did not go Pakistan for training for Jihad in Afghanistan, but they have many grievances, especially those in US prisons in large numbers.
Pakistan has been most affected .When Omar Sheikh was accused in the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl, who getting too close to perhaps discovering the connection of Jihadis, Al Qaeda and others with ISI and the Pakistan establishment , his father bemoaned that till the Jihadis were fighting against USSR , they were heroes , but now they have become terrorists and enemies .Yes , if you align with a big power , then follow its dictates other wise you would bombed to the stone age , as publicly confessed by Pakistan President Gen Pervez Musharraf in USA .So threatened US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage Pak ISI chief soon after 911 , leaving Pakistan no option but to join USA in bombing and killing of Al Qaeda, Jihadis and Taleban leaders and cadres, Pakistan's own creations .
Yes, to keep Pak military on its side and happy, billions of dollars of military aid has been poured into Pakistan, including sophisticated naval arms and equipment ostensibly to fight Talebans in the Afghanistan Mountains. Seeing US getting deeper into the Iraqi quagmire, Pakistan has made up with its own Talebans in its border areas and even asked NATO to do the same .As Afghanistan President Hafiz Karzai has said repeatedly the attacks against NATO and Afghan forces are organized from inside Pakistan.
The Pak based Talebans and conservative elements have taken over North West Pakistan to train terrorists from the region including from Uzbekistan and China's Turkic region Xinjiang under Beijing's repressive rule. These cadres and volunteers now go to fight inside Afghanistan .Pakistan now wants to fence and mine the Durand line dividing Pushtoons in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But the elephant in the room for the Pakistanis remains the Durand line which Pushtoons have never recognized.
Pakistan has been severely infected with Jihadi virus and other ills .With record opium production in Afghanistan and traded via Pakistan , from a few thousand the number of opium addicts has up to many millions .It has brought in the Kalashnikov based culture of violence to the country.
Comments and Conclusions
Following the First World War and creation of states by capricious British and French colonial masters, very little has changed in the arbitrary borders of the countries in the Middle East, except for the creation of the state of Israel, basically a compensation to the European Jewry at the cost of Palestinians, for the crimes in which the majority of European states led by Nazi Germany participated. After the 1949 Arab Israel war and the 1967 six day war, Israel continues to hold onto occupied Arab territories.
After the opening of the Pandora's box in the wake of 2003 invasion of Iraq, bottled up historic , ethnic , religious and other forces have now been unleashed which would play out and change the geography and history of the region, beginning with Iraq, where three ethnic and sectional based entities are already emerging. The invasion has sucked in Iran and other neighbours too are likely to be even more openly embroiled whether they like it or not.
Except in the desert warfare long time ago , since its oil wealth Saudis have become too blasé to fight , some what like the Abbasid Arabs who in ninth century began enjoying the fruits from its empire and left the fighting to imported Turkish slaves from central Asia . Soon the Turkish swords took over power as Sultans and became the protectors of the now hapless Caliphs, some of whom were even forbidden to recruit Turkish slaves.
Attracted by Gamal Nasser's Arab nationalism and socialism, when in next door Yemen, the military officers over threw the King and Egyptian troops moved in early 1960s , the Kingdom did not send its troops in support. It only provided funds to the Royalist forces .Later when Egypt left Yemen, the Saudis mediated among the warring factions.
When central Asian Turkic republics emerged after the break up of the Soviet Union, as usual Saudi Arabia sent money for Mullahs and madrasas and for construction of mosques and dispatched millions of Quran. Former Communist but secular apartchiks , who took over as the new rulers have come down heavily against Jihadis trained in and around Pakistan . Muslim extremists and militants in central Asia are called Wahabis.
During the Cold War, Saudi Arabia and other conservative and religious Muslim regimes were supported and used by the West to counter communism, socialism and nationalism basically to protect US led western economic, political and strategic interests. Saudis obeyed US dictates to nominate prices of oil in US petrodollars and manipulated oil price to suit western interests. Thus US can run a massive current account deficit, which almost fully finances it military budget now, equal to the rest of the world put together.
The Wahhabis had a free run of the country keeping it backward and in a mediaeval time warp where hands of thieves are amputated and adulterous couples stoned to death. This model with Wahhabi restrictions is sought to be imposed on other Muslims too, where ever extremists take control. Like Talebans in Afghanistan or in northwest Pakistan.
Compared to Saudi Arabia, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, whose King derives direct descent from Prophet Mohammad, is almost a modern nation. There are modern laws, freedom for women in dress, education and employment unlike in Saudi Arabia.
It is worth pondering why has the vast oil wealth of the peninsula not used to uplift Muslim Ummah, Saudis claim to represent and nurture by virtue of its control over the holy shrines in Mecca and Medina. There has been no massive Marshall Plan, which US used for Europe's economic growth after it was devastated in the 2nd world War. Yes, there have been palliatives but always linked to promote Wahhabi Islam.
The oil generated wealth has primarily benefited Western powers, who have protected the Ibn Saud family so that thousands of princes and princesses could wallow in luxury and worse. It doesn't need a Sophocles to conclude that the Saudi dynasty has directly or indirectly set back economic , political and social development and progress of the Muslim Ummah , of which it claims ' to be the de facto leader and for whom it feels religious responsibility ' in Obaid's words.
In one looks at the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire which lasted for five centuries and covered an area longer and larger than of the empires of the Arabs , its decline started when the Ottoman Sultan became the guardians of Mecca and Medina and took over the Caliphate . The resulting influx of conservative clerics and religious sheikhs and Mullahs into ruling elite in Istanbul ensured rule of obscurantism and fierce opposition to any modern ideas and technology even in military matters making Turkey the sick man of Europe.
Turkish Republic based on modern ideas and education can match Europeans in economic development and progress. Ten years ago it entered into a Customs accord with the Europe Union and its manufactured goods outmatch the best produced in Europe .With almost no oil, its GDP is half of all Arab states put together .Of course the so called secular Europe would not accede to full membership to Ankara, because 99% of Turks are Muslims.
The Abbasid Caliphate expanded and progressed based on ideas taken from everywhere and new inventions in science. But conservative ideas specially Wahhabi philosophy has kept the Muslim Ummah backward, unable to match the rising scientific and military power of the West and keeps it in Western chains. Yes, there is lot of glitter of the gold , glass and aluminium in oil rich Gulf states.
This nexus funnelling wealth into Madrasas with rote learning of Quran , little mathematics or science and barring new ideas can not face the increasing complex problems of modern times and have kept Muslims backward. It has and can produce only Al Qaedas, Jihadis and destruction but not a scientific and well thought out response to oppose the relentless US led Western consumerism, exploitation, and daily humiliation heaped on Arab and Muslim world.
Yes, some spectacular 911 like attacks in US or 77 attacks against UK would be mounted but this will not liberate the Ummah and roll back western Christian domination and exploitation of last two centuries. There is a lesson from the current misery and the hell like suffering of the hapless people of Iraq under US heel and military occupation, during which more than half a million Iraqis have lost their lives since March 2003.
Take Iran, where US policies have only strengthened conservative elements. Still there is freedom and education for women, who can work in offices and drive cars. The modern process started with the election of a moderate President Khatami was stopped with the country going on the defensive following US invasion next door . The Iranian people have learnt that going backwards did not resolve old, new and complex problems of the modern era. They want a change from Mullah's suffocating yoke.
The break up of US-Saud-Wahhab nexus will release the Muslim masses kept chained to backward ideas and usher in modern education, science, new ideas and progress to face the West.
But the upheaval brought by the Khomeini revolution in Iran would be a picnic compared to what the revolution in Sunni Islam would bring as the obscurantist and vested interests in and from outside will not give in easily. But perhaps the time beckons such a cataclysmic change.
Before the first world war, the Germans had visions of reaching Basra by rail with help from Ottomans and outflank the British Empire in India as the prize, the jewel in the British crown .The Ottomans then under the influence of the Young Turks led by maverick Enver Pasha had visions of stopping Russia and creating a pan Turkic empire extending into Russian Turkestan. The results were quite different and laid the foundations for a destructive 2nd world war, rise of Nazi Germany, holocaust against Jews in Europe and genocide against Gypsies. It led to decolonization and the end of the British, French and other European empires.
K Gajendra Singh, Indian ambassador (retired), served as ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan from August 1992 to April 1996. Prior to that, he served terms as ambassador to Jordan, Romania and Senegal. He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies. Copyright with the author. E-mail: Gajendrak@hotmail.com