External actors: Saudi Arabia’s covert role in Pakistan

Published: December 8, 2010
audi Arabia’s ambassador to the US Adel al Jubeir is quoted saying, “We in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants.”

audi Arabia’s ambassador to the US Adel al Jubeir is quoted saying, “We in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants.”

KARACHI: In a US embassy cable published by WikiLeaks, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US Adel al Jubeir is quoted saying, “We in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants.” That statement sums up decades of Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Pakistan’s political affairs.

While the UK and the US appear to play a visible role in the country, as Zardari is quoted as telling the US ambassador, “We won’t act without consulting you”, it has now emerged that Saudi Arabia is also a behind-the-scenes broker.

In 2000, many of Nawaz Sharif’s supporters were somewhat stunned as they watched a news broadcast of the man who vowed to “eat grass” if it meant Pakistan would have nuclear capability, waving them goodbye from a car. He was on his way to Saudi Arabia, where he would spend several years in exile until he returned to Pakistan in 2007. In the kingdom, Sharif was a “guest” of the royal family, and conditions set by the Musharraf government for his exile included that Sharif would not serve time in jail, forfeit Rs500 million in property, would not return to Pakistan for 10 years and would be disqualified from holding public office for 21 years. A leaked memo reveals that prior to his return to Pakistan, Sharif had “promised the king to avoid questioning Musharraf’s recent political decisions in public.” Sharif had been serving a life sentence for a hijacking case when he was suddenly acquitted and left the country. But he had friends in powerful places. According to a 2000 Telegraph report, “Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah, who negotiated the deal, had threatened to cut diplomatic ties with Pakistan if his friend Sharif was not freed.”

But even though, as Ambassador al Jubeir is quoted saying, “Sharif broke his promise by conducting political activity while in the kingdom,” he is still a key figure for the Saudis. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal is quoted saying in a cable that Sharif is a “force for stability” and “a man who can speak across party lines even to religious extremists.” A US official also noted that the “Saudis have an economic hold on Sharif, since he was reportedly the first non-Saudi to receive a special economic development loan from the Saudi government with which to develop a business while here in exile.” It is evident that were Sharif to take charge again, he would have the backing of the kingdom.

The other “winning horse” in the Saudis’ book is the military. Praise flows for the military in leaked cables, with General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani described as a “good man”. The Saudis also emphasised the need for the military to be a stabilising influence and reiterated their support for former president Pervez Musharraf in 2007. “With all his (Musharraf’s) flaws,” al Jubeir reportedly said then, “he is the only person that you (the US) or we have to work with now.”

Even though the Pakistan-Saudi Arabia relationship is referred to in glowing terms in government-issued history books and official statements, leaked cables reveal that Saudi Arabia’s support of Pakistan is conditional on who is at the helm of affairs. The current Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government has found its relationship to be under strain because of a number of reasons. The kingdom, according to leaked cables, has historically disliked the PPP and fears that Zardari, who it suspects is Shia, could be part of a Shia triangle in the region (with Nur al Maliki’s government in Iraq and Mahmoud Ahmedinajad’s in Iran). This has also affected aid, as well as an agreement to provide oil to Pakistan at concessionary terms.  Zardari has built strong ties with Iran, which is reportedly one of the reasons for the kingdom’s disapproval.

But even countries like the US understand the kingdom’s role, as is evident from cables reporting meetings between US and Saudi Arabia government officials. In a March 2009 cable, with tensions high over the long march, then-US ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson wrote, “We should encourage Zardari to continue efforts to ease tensions and ask the Saudis and the UAE to weigh in with their respective allies.”

Published in The Express Tribune, December 8th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (27)

  • Dec 8, 2010 - 9:40AM

    Pakistan & Saudia are indispensible to each other. Iran must learn to live with the neighbours.
    It neither has good relations with Pakistan nor with Saudia.Without Iran a peaceful region can only be dreamed.Recommend

  • NMS
    Dec 8, 2010 - 9:44AM

    Congratulations Express for paraphrasing what the Guardian said a week ago! Recommend

  • Ahsanullah Mehsud
    Dec 8, 2010 - 10:48AM

    Zardari is quoted as telling the US ambassador, “We won’t act without consulting you”, Recommend

  • Hamza Baloch
    Dec 8, 2010 - 11:19AM

    Pak and Saudis are borthers.

    Rather than referring wikileaks cables for other country, we must 1st check our relation with usa.And check what americans officials are doing with our country.Recommend

  • KNS
    Dec 8, 2010 - 11:57AM

    Pakistan can’t live with USA dollars and KSA’s oil. So what ever will happen in Pakistan will done after getting dictation from USA and KSA. When we are beggars we need to develop thinking of being beggars, it can’t happen that we take Aids/Loans from both countries and treat them as our equal partners, we should now realize that we are not sovereign state so we should abandon our thinking of being resident of autonomous and sovereign state.Recommend

  • Iftikhar-ur-Rehman
    Dec 8, 2010 - 12:03PM


  • Yasir
    Dec 8, 2010 - 12:13PM

    Pak and Saudis are borthers.
    With brothers like Saudi who needs enemies?

    You get paid to promote Saudis and extremists here?


  • Zarab
    Dec 8, 2010 - 12:36PM

    Allies War.
    Lets see who is mostly on the peaceful notions.
    Stick to Current Affairs.
    Economy Collapse.
    War Incentives.

  • Jameel ur Rasheed
    Dec 8, 2010 - 1:09PM

    That’s acceptable!Recommend

  • Pakistani born in Europe....
    Dec 8, 2010 - 2:31PM

    Why cant we just run our own country withour beeing someones leashed dog? The Saudis, USA, IMF etc. Recommend

  • I A Khan
    Dec 8, 2010 - 2:59PM

    Yet another pathetically structured article on an extremely intriguing subject.Recommend

  • Masroor
    Dec 8, 2010 - 3:27PM

    This all started in 18th century when Abdul wahab najdi fought with muslims and killed 4000 muslims who didnt accept his ideology, he ruined the holy shrines, he was supported by US he was aided. An agreement between US & saud family who supported wahab’s ideology was signed for Oil & money & they are still onto it. saudia arab aid people who accepts their ideology, you can see in pakistan madarsas & mosques of deobandi & ehl e hadith sects they are high in numbers & well developed which is a clear evidence of saudia arab conditional support to these sects.

    for details read book ” Tareekh e najd o hijaz “Recommend

  • \amin
    Dec 8, 2010 - 4:25PM

    The KSA has been working as PT master for the Muslim countries, working on US whistles.Recommend

  • Dec 8, 2010 - 5:12PM

    Saba: There are more cables suggesting the underground party scene, effects of the US media, and their atrocities on Yemen. Why aren’t you discussing those?Recommend

  • Fahad
    Dec 8, 2010 - 5:45PM

    Unity among Muslim is the Key and is appreciated in the book.Recommend

  • Farhan
    Dec 8, 2010 - 8:46PM

    Saudis and Americans are our real masters and now we should stop dreaming anything happening in Pakistan without our masters.

    Those who think any of these two countries are our brothers or friends live in fools paradise.Recommend

  • Ben
    Dec 8, 2010 - 8:46PM

    When you are looking deep into the questions raised or answered by the leaks, please keep one interesting fact in mind. Iran, the bad boy, where there is no US embassy or diplomat, come out clean and un-bruised. US diplomats have only second-hand information on Iran. Its leaders did not have to be embarrassed by the WikiLeaks. It still pays to be on the wrong side of the USA. Read more at: link textRecommend

  • Anoop
    Dec 8, 2010 - 10:50PM

    Pakistan’s thinks the money and Oil it gets from Saudi Arabia is free. But, all those are in exchange of control and loyalty from Pakistan.Recommend

  • Arsalan Khan
    Dec 9, 2010 - 12:08AM

    Pakistan has closer historical and ethnic ties with neighboring Iran and Afghanistan. We have deep religious ties without Saudi Arabia. It is our interests to have good relations with these three countries. Pakistan has sacrificed its good relationship with Afghanistan and Iran for Talibans that have proved disastrous for Muslims and Pakistan. Saudi Arabia is funding many groups that are involved in attacking Shias in Pakistan that threatens our Muslim solidarity and unity. Quaid e Azam wanted a moderate and modern Muslim state but instead moving away from that cherished goal.Recommend

  • Uzair Javaid
    Dec 9, 2010 - 7:31AM

    WikiLeaks shows us one thing, that every country regardless of how close it may be with us eventally have their own interestes. UAE, as people call a brother Muslim state that has great respect and sympathies for us, are funding and aiding militants in Baloch insurgency since decades now.

    US is allegedly behind this wikileaks scene, they only gave out info that would rattle us or our government and army too. Wikileaks dint give out any information that would expose US secret facilities, installations and missions. They are playing with things to get different results out from a single explosion.Recommend

  • M. Zaeem ul Haq
    Dec 9, 2010 - 11:16AM

    Saudi’s are really our brothers even thogh they call is Rafiq but still Holiest land of all Muslims is there and we should respect them. It is suggested that we should have a defence pack with them by sending our troops on their border with Israel for the protection of our Holy land and to show our respect for them. It would be in good in the interest of country and President Zardari to resign after so many wikileaks and live a peaceful life with his family in Dubai as they need him a lot now.Recommend

  • Rehan
    Dec 9, 2010 - 5:36PM

    Saudis’ friendship is like a silent poison for Pakistan!Recommend

  • Shahbaz Kiani
    Dec 9, 2010 - 8:18PM

    These leaks tell us that don’t blame US for every thing rather these are our so called Brothers who are playing with our fate for their strategic goals. They are fearful to systematic governance in Pakistan and they have no respect for our elected leaders. Recommend

  • Avanti
    Dec 9, 2010 - 10:26PM

    Saudi’s don’t care a hoot about our sub-continent. They have no real respect for an Indian, Pakistani, or a Bangladeshi.

    All that Saudis want to do is purify Pakistan as the Muslims of Pakistan are not the real thing yet. Some don’t even deserve to be called Muslims. Those who can be salvaged must be properly trained and converted. If it costs a few billion dollars of oil money and a few lives, so be it.

    Personally, with all the negative things about the western world that we know of, I feel safer in dealing with them as there is still some kind of openness and accountability with the British and the Americans.Recommend

  • Dec 9, 2010 - 10:40PM

    Ah, so now we have Saudi as our brother !!! when exactly this happen??? and how?
    Good lord, or we gone evn that down that the uncivilized will have take part in our affairs? This was very clear to all eh educated folks around in the country but Mullah was blind folding the nation with the funds it recieves from these extremisim chimny. Forget about forgiving them for these disclousers, can we even forget these disclosers and call them as friends, ever again. The Arabs are threat to our very existence, not India and Iran. Let the Arab settel their matters with Iran, we need to be friendly to Iran for we are Pakistanis, not the Arabs or the sunni and shia. Recommend

  • Ziyad Khan
    Dec 10, 2010 - 7:28PM

    Well religious views set aside, reality is we are to Saudi Arabia as Israel is to US, we both need each other in a lot of ways, so the only way forward for our Government and the Saudis is to set aside the mistrust and move ahead!
    Saudis have been our lifeline for long, so let’s just not in an instant of emotion wipe out their contributions, both economic and political, to this country! And the contributions weigh way more than the negative influences.Recommend

  • Dec 24, 2010 - 3:39PM

    I don’t understand why we always have so much Saudi involvement? But on the other hand they also take care of us. I think we should learn to live alone.Recommend

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