Even as rumors fly of a meeting between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Taliban leaders during the former’s visit to Saudi Arabia last month, a Wikileaks cable has revealed that the Saudis were initially against such a meeting.
The cable, dating back to February last year and sent from the Islamabad embassy of the United States, quotes American Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) Richard Holbrooke as telling Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari that Saudis were not keen on the talks.
Holbrooke pointed out that Karzai was interested in holding talks with the Taliban, but the Saudis, reeling from the spread of Al Qaeda ideology in the Holy Kingdom, were not keen.
The issue of talks is a very sensitive one as many rule out the possibility of the Taliban ever being supporters of a democratic regime, while Karzai has been pushing strongly for reconciliation.
“Holbrooke added that Karzai wanted to meet with the Taliban in Saudi Arabia, but that Saudi Arabia would not support such talks until the Taliban renounced al-Qaeda.
“Zardari confirmed that Saudi Intelligence Chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdel Aziz had discussed the possibile talks with him, but Prince Muqrin “would not guarantee” it would happen,” the cable sent from the Islamabad embassy to Washington last year said.
Saudi Arabia, as the seat of the holiest Islamic shrines and the home-country of Osama bin Laden, has been on the forefront of the battle against the Al Qaeda, an Islamic, Sunni-oriented fundamentalist network.
Osama bin Laden, despite being the son of a well-to-do Saudi Government contractor, had reserved some of the most scathing words for the government of his homeland, calling it the agent of American imperialists. The House of Saud, which rules the Kingdom, let a largish contingent of US military on its territory during the Gulf war with its enemy, Iraq.
Meanwhile, speculation is rife that President Karzai did finally win the backing of the Saudi authorities for conducting talks with the Taliban. Some reports have even suggested that Karzai, on his Saudi visit last month, even held talks with the Taliban and the Gulauddin Hekmatyar group.
Karzai sees talks and reconciliation with the Taliban, who want the unadulterated implementation of Quranic laws and regulations in Afghanistan, as the key to long term peace in the country.
The same cable, however, indicated that Holbrooke, as Obama’s special representative for the region, did not share Karzai’s optimism.
“Holbrooke noted that the popular perception of the U.S. reintegration and reconciliation efforts with the Taliban mistakenly overemphasized the possibility for reconciliation, explaining that reconciliation with Taliban leaders was less likely than reintegrating low-level Taliban who had given up the fight,” the cable said.
Saudi Arabia’s role in fighting the terror network was detailed in another cable, dating back to May 2009, which described a meeting between Holbrooke and the Saudi Assistant Minister of the Interior. Prince Mohammed bin Nayef (MbN).
“Terrorists stole the most valuable things we have. They took our faith and our children and used them to attack us,” the cable, written by the Riyadh embassy of the US, quoted the Prince as telling Holbrooke.
“It had not been easy to see Saudi involvement in 9/11 and other terrorist incidents, he said. AQ [al Qaeda] was smart in wanting to hit both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. AQ’s strategic goal was to hurt the U.S. and to take control of the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina,” the cable said.
The cable then described how the Saudis were fighting terror, according to Prince MbN.
“MbN claimed that in 2003 radicals were present in “90 percent” of Saudi mosques. The current Saudi leadership had decided it needed to be on the front lines of the struggle against terrorism, that the task could not be left to the next generation, since AQ gained momentum every time it succeeded.
“The Saudis realized they could not fight back without public support, he said, and developed a strategy of working with families of suicide bombers and other extremists who had been killed.
“This approach involved providing support to the families and telling them their sons had been “victims” and not “criminals.” This gave the families “a way out” and provided a public relations advantage to the government. “If you stop five but create fifty” new radicals, “that’s dumb.” MbN said.
“The Saudis measure their success against extremism by looking at levels of terrorist recruitment the number of successful operations, and they see a growing rejection of extremist violence.
“The Prince related an anecdote about an anti-terrorist operation in which the officer commanding Interior Ministry forces had discovered his cousin was the leader of the terrorists inside a surrounded building.
“MbN said he had offered to relieve the officer, but the latter had refused, and had insisted on leading the attack. The officer succeeded in defeating the terrorists while capturing his cousin alive.
“Saudi Arabia was not yet free of terrorism, MbN said. Thus it remained important to defeat the terrorists on the ground, in the media, and ideologically. The Saudis wanted to do this in cooperation with the U.S., the Prince said. Time was the key, and it was “not in our favor,” he added, so “we need to work fast.”
“On terrorist financing, MbN said “We are trying to do our best.” Saudi Arabia has millions of visitors, especially during Hajj. The Saudis are making arrests, but are not making this public.
“Instead, the Saudi goal is to make the public aware that donations could go to the wrong places. MbN said that “if money wants to go” to terrorist causes, “it will go,” and that terrorist attacks were inexpensive, “but let’s make it harder.”
“Holbrooke asked what the Saudis would do with Pakistanis in Saudi Arabia who financed terrorism. The Prince replied the suspects would be tried in Shari’a courts with Wahhabi judges so that the results of the judicial process could be used to condemn extremist ideology.