THE 2008 financial crash has taught Saudi Arabia the folly of relying only on Western powers for economic performance.Indeed, although even now several of the key decision-making slots within Saudi businesses are filled by citizens from Western countries, yet these days, more than Europe and the US, it is Asia that is emerging as the most vibrant market for Saudi goods.
And while in times past, Saudis would snap up each trinket from Paris or fancy automobile from Germany, these days they are less willing to pay a high premium for Western brands than they once were.Indeed, given the supplicating stance of India’s finance ministry and the RBI towards Wall Street and the City of London, it can be argued that under King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia is less in the thrall of foreign powers than India, one reason why the Kingdom is coming closer to India.
In his efforts at rescuing Islam from the dangerous path that has been forged by the extremists, King Abdullah has launched a series of Interfaith Dialogues that seek to bridge the gap between different religions. In Geneva, some months ago, he deliberately broadened the ambit of such a dialogue beyond the three faiths that spran up in the Arabian peninsula (Islam, Christianity and Judaism) and invited Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs as well. This initiative of the King has been taken up by Muslim scholars worldwide, and recently, religious experts from Qatar joined their Indian counterparts in holding a similar Interfaith Dialogue at Jamia Millia Islamia University, in Delhi. This reaching out to other faiths, and identifying the common ground between all people of faith, is a complete contrast to the extremism that has been on display in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In Education,in Telecom,in Infrastructure, in Information Technology and in Energy, India and Saudi Arabia are natural partners.
Saudi Arabia is among the most conservative of the Arab states, not including Yemen or the Sudan, but just across the 26-kilometre bridge that links the Saudi city of Dammam with Manama in Bahrain, an entirely different world awaits. While there is no alchohol or even cinema theatres in Saudi Arabia, and all women have to wear the long black cloak that signifies respectability to a particular school of Islam, in Bahrain the atmosphere is more like Mumbai,with far fewer restrictions on human behaviour. Even farther towards the direction of cosmopolitanism is Dubai,where almost any commodity—living or not —can be bought and sold
However, it must be admitted that for those not dependent on alchohol or visiting a cinema theatre or a disco, Saudi Arabia is a modern enough place. The roads are clean and well-lit, while shopping complexes and other amenities are modern. Slowly,especially since King Abdullah ascended the Saudi throne in 2005, there has been significant change within Saudi Arabia, that has brought the Kingdom much closer to the moderate ethos of Islam than it has been since the previous century, when first the UK and later the US encouraged a hardline version of this great faith that was completely at variance with the spirit of enquiry and adapatation of earlier times.
King Abdullah is 100 per cent Arab, and every strand of his cultural DNA is suffused with the traditions of his land, which is why he was bold in freeing the Kingdom from the shackles that had been created as a result of foreign advice during the 20th century. His predecessors too wanted to modernise the Kingdom, but both King Khalid (who is still remembered for his compassion) and King Fahd (who sought an accommodation between Saudi traditions and the needs of a modernising society) were not in the best of health, and hence could not launch the initiatives that Abdullah has pioneered in. These days, the internet is everywhere in the Kingdom, while Bollywood movies are favoured by most Saudis. Politically, this has worked to the benefit of those in authority, for while many Hollywood movies have a subliminal political message (that is in opposition to the lifetsyles and state practices of countries such as China and Saudi Arabia), the fare that comes out of Bollywood is societally and politically neutral.
Why were 15 of the 19 hijackers who perpetrated 9/11,2001 Saudi? The answer lies far outside the Kingdom, within Langley, the suburb of Virginia in the US that houses the CIA. Exactly as their UK allies did in the past against the Ottoman Empire, the Cold Warriors of Langley fashioned a brutal, violent faith and managed to pass it off among millions as being “Genuine Islam”, when in fact it was the opposite. Hundreds of thousands of Saudi nationals, both within the Kingdom as well as outside, especially in that laboratory of the CIA, Pakistan, got infected with this Agency-created concoction, and were immediately put to use in the 1980s to do battle against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Once Mikhail Gorbachev pulled out the Soviet armies in ignominy from Afghanistan, defeated by the cowardice of a Moscow CPSU leadership that did not dare to attack the actual base of the Afghan jihad, Pakistan, the CIA ought to have begun a programme of de-toxification, and slowly rescued millions who had been deluded into believing that Islam favoured violence and the use of extreme methods even against women and children. Instead, the US walked away, leaving behind the cesspool it had created, exactly as it plans to do in Iraq and in present-day Afghanistan.
It was during the deadly hiatus between the incapcitation of King Fahd by a stroke in 1995 and the coming to power of King Abdullah in 2005 that the CIA-created virus of extremism ran riot across Saudi Arabia, and through that country, across the world. Although Abdullah was Crown Prince, yet he lacked the authority that only Kingship could give, and hence had to watch as a group of CIA-friendly Saudis funded and developed more and more virulent strains of a faith. Many of the hundreds of thousands of Saudis who were funded by the state to go to the US and Europe to study or reside returned angry and fanaticised, aware of the contempt for their people, their land and their faith that they encountered in these places. It is no surprise that so many of the 19 hijackers of 9/11 had more than a passing exposure to the West, the very civilisation that they saw as having smothered their people and in many senses, occupied their land.
However, because education was not given the attention it needed in the Kingdom, and because for some reason scholarships were given to them only if they studied in Western institutions, young Saudis had no option but to go far afield in search of learning.
Had the shadowy group that had effective control of Saudi Arabia between 1995 and 2005 a better sense of Saudi needs and values, they would have done what King Abdullah is doing today, which is to encourage a strategic aliance between Saudi Arabia and India. Were Saudi students to come to India to study, or were they to study in universities and colleges set up by Indian entities, there would not be the cultural contempt that they—as sensitive people from the noble and proud Arab civilisation—feel in the so-called “developed” world.
Since he came to power, King Abdullah has been setting up educational facilities at a broisk pace, as indeed is needed in a country where 70 per cent of the population is below the age of 25. Also, unlike in the past, when only those from the West were favoured, he has seen to it that the plentiful intellectual manpower of India has been tapped for this purpose. During a recent call on the superbly equipped Prince Sultan University in Riyadh, this columnist was happy to see professors from India and Malaysia alongside their Arab colleagues.
Had the US turned to the many Pashtun nationalists to battle the Soviets, the war would have ended much sooner than it did in 1988. However, under the inspiration of first Zbigniew Brzezinski and later Bob Casey, the US sidelined the nationalists and instead allowed the Pakistan army to monopolise its assets, which were directed only to those elements that had been injected with the virulent virus of a fanatic belief system that, although it called itself Islamic, was in fact as far removed from the basic tenets of that faith as Langley is from Nejd.
After the Afghan war entered a new phase with the retreat of the Soviet armies in 1988, India and Saudi Arabia would have come closer together, but for the pathological mistrust for India of the Clinton administration, which favoured Pakistan over India as completely as did the British who created that country. It was only during the final years of the Cinton presidency that tiny shoots of rapprochement began. In 1997, then Minister of State for External Affairs Salim Shervani (on one of the rare visits to the Kingdom by an Indian dignitary) was asked by then Crown Prince Abdullah, “Why has India forgotten us?” That the King had not forgotten India became clear in 2006, when he declared in Delhi that India was his second home. King Abdullah was the Guest of Honour that year at the Republic Day Parade on Rajpath.
India too began the policy (which has been continued with still greater vigour by Manmohan Singh) of looking towards the US rather than elsewhere for solutions. As a result, the entire Arab world was neglected, despite its economic and cultural importance for India.
It was again during that fateful 1995-2005 interregnum (when the Kingdom was without a strong leadership) that the fateful decision to obey the CIA and give asistance to the Taliban was arrived at. This extremist militia had a culture that was steeped in the virus that had been developed in the laboratories of intelligence agencies, and which had nothing in common with the noble Pashtun tradition of moderation and hospitality. Even during the Freedom Struggle, the Pashtuns led by Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan stood apart from the British-induced religious fanaticism that engulfed the class that was most in contact with the colonial masters, the educated Muslim elite led by the pork-fancying, alchohol-swilling M A Jinnah. Till the time the artificial, alien-created entity that is the Taliban morphed onto the Pashtun stage, that beautiful land had always welcomed Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists and given them the protection and the rights that has been mandated by genuine (and not Langley-created) Islam.
Sadly, the injection of hundreds of thousands of Pashtuns with the extremist virus that had been developed for use by the Pakistan army blighted the country, and made it a land of horror that was repeatedly revealed in the brutal executions of both men and women that took place under the watch of the CIA and the ISI, two agencies that even today is hard to tell apart, so closely do they work together. Although Hillary Clinton talks a great deal about the rights of women, it would seem that she was silent when her husband funded and trained the Taliban during 1995-96, and assisted them to take control the following couple of years. Today, the US army has gone back to its old policy of eliance on the ISI and the Pakistan army, with the result that the moderate Pashtuns under Hamid Karzai are being marginalised, and the extremists under the influence of the Taliban are gaining in strength, fed from across the Pakistan border. Only those seeking to mislead or those totally ignorant of ground realities would speak any more of an “Afghan Taliban” or a “Pakistan Taliban”, for both are the same.
King Abdullah has moved away from the disastrous CIA-Pentagon-ISI policy of relying on the Pashtun extremists, and has instead joined India (in 2006) in backing Hamid Karzai and the new Afghan Constitution. This enlightened document mandates non-violence, a plural society and equal rights for women. Both Saudi Arabia and India are united in seeking to detach the Pashtun population from the grip of the virus that got injected into them in the 1980s, and thereby making it possible for them to get back the gentle, tolerant culture of Pashtunkhwa. And because the predominant goal of the Al Qaeda is to replace the Saudi government with a Talibanised structure, the Kingdom is clear that Al Qaeda has to be eliminated, by whatever name its different manifestations go by.
Sadly, almost nothing was done by India from 2006 (when King Abdullah came ro India) and 2010, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was given a royal reception in the Kingdom that would not be surpassed even by the visit of a US President.