Can Pakistan turn off terror tap with Saudi Arabia breathing down its neck?

By Ashok K Singh

Will Pakistan turn off the terror tap? Under India’s pressure or after routine, mild rebuke from the US blandly prodding Pakistan to walk the talk?

Forget taps being shut, Pakistan’s terror factories have just got injection of fresh fuels. Arm-twisted by Saudi Arabia into submission, Pakistan has declared its support for the Saudis in their current feud against Iran. A section of the Pakistani establishment was keen on maintaining a whiff of neutrality between Saudi Arabia and Iran but the powerful military wing would have none of it.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Reuters

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Reuters

Saudi Arabia, for the uninitiated, helps Pakistan produce jihadis from terror factories in two ways. One, it bankrolls jihadi organisations. Two, Saudi Arabia indoctrinates madrassas’ students in most conservative and fundamentalist form of Islam preparing fertile ground for terrorists. By the way, the Saudis are also known to have bankrolled the Pakistani’s nuclear programme.

Saudi Arabia has been angered by Pakistan recently on three counts. One, it was incensed after Pakistan’s refusal to join the Saudi-led war in Yemen against the Iranian proxy Houthi militia. Two, last month it included Pakistan as a member of the Saudi-led Muslim coalition of 34 countries announced ostensibly to fight global terrorism without even informing Pakistan about it. The Saudis felt let down again when Pakistan failed to commit. Three, earlier this month, when the Saudis saw Pakistan hedging bets in its feud against Iran over execution of Shiite cleric Nimr Al Nimr, Riyadh felt it was time to bring Pakistan in line.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir air dashed to Islamabad and got Pakistan on board after talks with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif. Pakistan came out in the support of the Saudis. Pakistan also cleared the air that it was on board the Saudi’s Muslim coalition initiative, which Iran sees as nothing but an anti-Shia front.

Nawaz Sharif had few options but to fall in line, realising he had been pushed in a tight corner. At the same time, Sharif also fears being sucked into the Saudi-Iranian feud which can worsen sectarian Sunni-Shia conflicts in Pakistan already battling inbred terrorism.

After the government made its position clear to toe the Saudi line against Iran, Shias in Pakistan came out in the open to protest the decision. One Shia leader said, “Neither the Pakistan Army nor the nation is for rent, we will oppose any attempts to sell the army to the house of Saud for a few billion riyals.” Sunnis marched in counter protests in many Pakistani cities. The sectarian divide is going to get worse if Pakistan goes out of way to favour Saudi Arabia in the Middle East proxy wars.

And Pakistan is going to come under further pressure to commit military assistance to the beleaguered Saudis who have spread themselves thin on various fronts and now feel stuck. The war in Yemen against the Houthis is nowhere near the finish line. It’s becoming clear that neither the air strikes nor the boots on the ground deployed by the Saudi-led coalition of Sunni countries is going to win the war against the Iranian-backed Houthis. The Saudis currently are looking adventurist in their approach on many issues which is raising fears of wider sectarian wars.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have been all-weather friends or it wouldn’t be exaggeration to say that Pakistan has virtually been a client state. Saudis have bailed out Pakistan from economic difficulties including when it was put under the international sanctions after the 1998 nuclear tests.

Militarily, Pakistan has deployed troops in Saudi Arabia whenever the House of Sauds has felt insecure by external or internal threats. In the 1980s, Pakistani troops were stationed there to deter Iran. During the first Gulf War in 1991 Pakistani troops were deployed in Saudi Arabia to deter Saddam Hussain.

But for the Saudi’s generosity, Pakistan has had to pay a heavy price. Saudi Arabia’s active involvement in the radicalisation of Pakistan during Gen Zia-ul-Haq government to support the US’s proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan led to the rise of jihadis into a Frankenstein.

Pakistan has used the jihadis on both its western border with Afghanistan and on the eastern front against India for decades. But the jihadis have morphed into monsters devouring Pakistan internally too.

To dismount the tiger it has been riding, Pakistan needs to curb the toxic ideology being taught at its radical religious schools and shut down its terror factories that produce jihadis who Pakistan uses to deal a thousand cuts to India, the latest being the Pathankot attack.

How will Pakistan turn off terror taps while submitting to the whims of Saudi Arabia is the question!

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Updated Date: Jan 11, 2016 15:28:19 IST

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