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The Saudi Showdown With Pakistan
by James Dunnigan
November 20, 2012

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are going through a tense period because of Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to shut down sanctuaries for Islamic terrorists. The American raid into Pakistan last year that killed Saudi born Osama bin Laden and captured enormous quantities of material detailing the continued use of Pakistan for Saudi terrorists only increased the tension.

Despite the terrorist problem, the two countries continue to maintain close military relationships. Every year Saudi naval and commando forces travel to Pakistan for joint training. Saudi Arabia continues to depend on Pakistan for support in the event of invasion or serious internal disorder. Last year, for example, Pakistan sent some combat experienced advisors to help the Saudi Army handle Yemeni tribesmen fighting Saudi troops along the Yemeni border. At the same time Pakistan put two infantry divisions on alert for possible movement to Saudi Arabia if Shia unrest in eastern Saudi Arabia got out of hand. Pakistan, at the request of Saudi Arabia, allowed Saudi neighbor Bahrain recruit a thousand retired Pakistani soldiers and policemen to reinforce Bahraini and Saudi security forces dealing with a Shia uprising there. 

During the 1980s, Saudi Arabia maintained two brigades of Pakistani mercenaries as part of its armed forces, just in case Iran defeated Iraq and decided to move south. In 1979, Pakistan sent commandos to help the Saudis remove armed Islamic radicals from the holy sites in Mecca. In 1969, Pakistan sent military pilots to help with Saudi Air Force operations against Yemeni rebels.

It’s not all one-way. During the 1980s Saudi Arabia sent billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan, which was providing refugee camps and base areas for Afghan tribesmen fighting Russian troops occupying Afghanistan. That aid had a down side, in that it included money for setting up religious schools where the ultraconservative Saudi version of Islam was taught to young Pakistanis and Afghans. Many of these kids went on to become Islamic terrorists, determined to replace the government of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia with religious dictatorships.

The irony of this relationship is that conservative Saudi mosques and religious schools are the source of most of the Islamic radical thinking that is now seen as curse in Pakistan (and many other countries). The Saudis want their conservative form (Wahhabism) of Islam to spread but do not want the Islamic terrorism that eventually develops out of Wahhabi beliefs. The Saudis are divided over how to cope with this downside of Wahhabism. Meanwhile Pakistan still believes that Islamic terrorists can be used as a weapon (against India) and tool of influence (against Afghanistan), despite the terrorist factions who have declared war on the Pakistani government. Most of the world disagrees with this Pakistani strategy, so the Pakistanis deny that they are providing sanctuaries for Islamic terrorists and supporting terrorist operations against India. Saudi Arabia sides with India on this point and has begun to arrest and deport, to India, Islamic terrorists hiding out in Saudi Arabia. Pakistan may be ignoring reality but its neighbors are not.


 

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