Saudi Arabia feels safe, or at least it should, when its wings are all right. “Saudi security” is based on an old strategy that withstood the change of times, leaders and the world around it; a strategy that always needs a strong Pakistan in the east, and a powerful and stable Egypt in the west, while maintaining good and distinctive relations with both countries so that it could safely advance with its foreign relations.
This explains the positive attitude of the Saudi government towards Egypt, as it ignored the campaigns of intimidation and distrust led by some authors and officials who are worried and affected by the “isolation” circumstances in the region, and who were allergic to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in the largest Arab country. The officials in Saudi Arabia ignored all this, and they were rather keen to confirm and prove their desire of good relations with Egypt. Saudi Arabia obviously puts Egypt first and then comes whoever governs it, while the others, as soon as they have seen the Brotherhood in power, their considerations and decisions were disordered, even at the expense of their own or regional interests.
Pakistan in need
Egypt is fine and recovering, so our western wing is doing well. But what about Pakistan?
There are many reasons for distress, but Saudi Arabia can help. Pakistan does not need financial support because all the money that will be sent now will be in vain. For example, Pakistan has drained the United States as they have spent for years more than two billion dollars annually, yet nothing has changed. Pakistan is still tormented by the violence, poverty, corruption and persistent failure. Comparing Pakistan to India is enough to realize the deteriorating status-quo in Pakistan. The problem is that, even if we can see the light at the end of the Egyptian tunnel, we can only perceive a flame ball in the Pakistani tunnel caused by the latest absurd suicide bombing there.
The problem in the Pakistani mind (I am sorry... I know that my friends in Pakistan will not like what I will say) is that they believe the conspiracy theories in all their forms and colors. For instance, Pakistanis do not use salt in their food because they believe that the iodine is a chemical solution that comes within a western Indian plot that will lead them to infertility. This is neither a joke nor an exaggeration; it is actually a health disaster to which the Pakistani Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization are working to find a solution for. It all began with a rumor two decades ago, and the consecutive governments were not able to refute it, since the Pakistanis do not usually trust the officials; the clerics have even promoted the rumor and added that it is a part of the endless conspiracy and war that they do not want to terminate. The clerics did not invalidate this issue as they should have done and they did not even warn their citizens of the damage of the iodine-free food.
It is a very serious issue. A survey conducted by scientific academic bodies in Pakistan, the UNICEF and the Pakistani Ministry of Health has proven that iodine deficiency in the Pakistani food is one of the reasons behind the suffering of 200 million people (which is half of Pakistan’s population) from severe health disorders, such as abortion, goiter (swelling of the thyroid gland) and mental retardation. Several reports have linked the emergence of symptoms like lethargy, low IQ and low rate of productivity in Pakistan, to the spread of this rumor, causing additional damage to a fragile economy in a country like Pakistan.
Polio vaccines is another plot to spread infertility among Muslims. Irrationality and ignorance have led some Pakistanis to kill their fellow citizens because they have participated in the UNICEF and Pakistani Ministry of Health’s campaigns! These are the same campaigns that were launched in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and all other Muslim countries. In most countries, these campaigns have mercifully succeeded in eradicating the poliomyelitis disease, but Pakistani Taliban does not agree with that. The Taliban killed 9 men and women who led these noble campaigns. This incident forced the Ministry of Health, the UNICEF and the volunteering associations to halt the campaigns for several weeks. Earlier this month, these campaigns were resumed under the protection of the armed police and some supporters. Those are incredible stories, but that is what happens when extremism flares up in a society where no one can stop it.
Many blame the late President Zia ul-Haq, because he took the genie out of his cave when he allowed and even encouraged jihadist and fundamentalist ideas that have ancient Indian subcontinent roots, since the famous revolution against Britain in the 18th century, which settled within the border areas with Afghanistan when Britain tightened its control over the country. Those ideas remained latent searching for something to revive them: the Afghani jihad against the Russians did. It had a good impact there, so late president Zia ul-Haq was stimulated to repeat the experience in Kashmir. I have personally visited in the late nineties a Kashmiri training camp. The goal of Zia ul-Haq and his “military intelligence” service was to provoke them against India, Pakistan’s historical complex, under the pretext of the liberation of Kashmir. They deviated then with the “Haqqanis” after the 9/11 attacks from “secret” allies into the enemies the regime.
Extremism became the largest disaster in Pakistan, as it was growing and spreading on the intellectual and practical level more than any other Muslim country. The suicidal operations were at a high pace, higher than any other Islamic country (perhaps it is rivaled by Iraq). There is even a site that is distressing, publishing accurate and reliable numbers on the Pakistanis killed. It mentioned that until last week, 369 suicide bombings killing 5329 people occurred in the country! These operations usually take place in mosques, markets and public places, and they do not only target army positions. It is clear that the Mufti of Pakistan’s Taliban do not see anything wrong with a young man blowing himself up to kill the targeted official in a public market or even in a mosque. What kind of people would find that acceptable?
Religious scholars in Pakistan are unable to do anything; those who criticize “Taliban” get killed, and many of them are opportunistic and use religion for political reasons, keeping silent about Taliban’s crimes. A third group of scholars chose to remain safe and silent.
Here comes the Saudi role. The Imams of the Two Holy Mosques play an important role in Pakistan unlike all others. Pakistanis may not know the name of the Sheikh or his religious status, but it is enough for them to know that he is the Imam of the mosque so they would listen to him and trust his opinion. Therefore, I invite the Saudi government to cooperate with the Pakistani government in organizing a tour for some imams so they can speak during debates in all the country, and the Pakistani television and radio would broadcast their translated speeches into Urdu. It is then that they will be able to inform the Pakistanis about the erroneous iodine rumors and the need to let their children get the polio vaccines. They should also explain to them the prohibition of suicide killing and translate to them the fatwas of Sheikh Ibn Baaz, Ibn Uthaymeen and the current mufti of the country regarding the prohibition of these operations. Subsequently, we will surely contribute to saving Pakistan from its self-destruction.
All this should take place with serious security measures because Taliban will even kill the imams of the holy mosques if they disagree with them!
*This article first appeared in al-Hayat on Jan. 12, 2013. Link: http://alhayat.com/OpinionsDetails/471610
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.