THE SAUDIS, AND THE TALIBAN
MER - Washington
In a sense it was the powerful and
widely despised Saudi Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan in Washington who created
Osama bin Laden - however unwittingly. And it was the Saudi government
itself which made it possible for the Taliban to take control of Afghanistan,
also unwittingly leading to the events of recent years. We will have more
details about these underlying realities in the weeks and months ahead.
Much of the background has just been written about by Robert Fisk, one
of the most informed Western writers about the region, in this very insightful
article in The Independent.
[Note: Robert Fisk was exclusively
and extensively interviewed on MID-EAST REALITIES T.V. last year about
the entire Middle East situation and the "Peace Process" -- for details
and to obtain a video email to INFOMERTV@MIDDLEEAST.ORG and see http://www.MiddleEast.Org/fisk.htm].
Fisk, Middle East Correspondent
On the face of it, Nawaf Obaid's report
looks like any other student thesis prepared for Harvard's John F Kennedy
School of Government. Entitled "Improving US Intelligence Analysis on the
Saudi Arabian Decision Making Process", it might have mouldered on the
shelves of the State Department official who requested it.
But the young Saudi's detailed account
of kingly indecision, American ignorance and secret Saudi funding for the
world's most ruthless Muslim militia has enraged his country's government,
by revealing the Kingdom's religious divisions and its secret support for
the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Quoting Saudi government officials,
army officers and members of the Saudi National Guard, Obaid, who toured
the remote conservative villages of Saudi Arabia last year but is now staying
in Geneva, concludes that "US analysts have underestimated, overlooked
or misunderstood the nature, strength and goals of the Wahhabi movement
in Saudi Arabia, as well as the extent to which the secular leaders are
beholden to this group".
Had US intelligence operatives "had
a deeper understanding of the religious situation in Saudi Arabia", he
says, they might have been able to prevent the 1996 bombing at Dhahran,
which killed 19 Americans.
Until now, the Saudi dissident, Osama
bin Laden, now in Afghanistan, has been blamed for the bomb. The first
part of Obaid's thesis details the covert pressure of Saudi preachers on
King Faisal to order an oil embargo against the United States after the
1973 Middle East war, a step he eventually took "to pre-empt internal dissent
and satisfy the growing frustration of the ulema (religious authorities)".
But it is the second half of his report,
and its evidence of the immense power wielded by the most conservative
elements in the Kingdom, that has so upset the Saudis.
He quotes a "senior official" at the
Saudi ministry of justice - a member of the al-Shaikh family who have held
the highest religious offices in the Kingdom - as saying King Fahd sought
the help of his senior religious leaders before allowing US troops to land
in Saudi Arabia after Saddam Hussein's occupation of Kuwait in 1990. "All
the senior ulema were categorically against the idea," a court official
is quoted as telling Obaid. "It was only after long discussions with the
King . that Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Aziz Bin Baz reluctantly gave his
endorsement to the idea on condition that solid proof be presented as to
the [Iraqi] threat."
The King was persuaded to admit the
US forces after a meeting of the Saudi High Command at which General Saleh
el-Mahya, the army commander, talked of the "pitiful lack of uniformed
men" in his forces and General Ahmad Behery, the air force commander, said
that, given the strength of Iraqi land forces, a Saudi air defence would
US Defense Secretary Dick Cheney would
later promise that US troops would not stay in Saudi Arabia "a minute longer
than they were needed".
A meeting of 350 ulemas at Mecca eventually
agreed to the temporary US military presence. But to appease the ulema,
King Fahd was forced to make concessions, increasing the authority of the
Mutaween, the religious police who impose the strictest laws of Wahhabiism,
a purist Islamic faith original expounded by Mohamed bin Abdul Wahab, whose
descendants are now the powerful al-Shaikh family. For Wahhabis, only the
strictest Islamic law is valid, while unbelievers are infidels, deserving
This same religious police would later
create the Taliban's Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Suppression
of Vice, which has made Afghan women prisoners in their own homes.
In Saudi Arabia, Obaid says, the US
underestimated the ulemas' dissatisfaction when American troops stayed
Thus, the bombers who struck at US
personnel, first in the capital, Riyadh, and then in Dhahran, "did not
originate externally, but derived their theological and strategic underpinnings
from the mainstream Wahhabi sect".
As resentment grew and Sheikh Salman
al-Audah and Sheikh Safar al-Hawali demanded the withdrawal of US troops,
Saudi security forces found that their followers tried to prevent their
According to a former interior ministry
official, Obaid says, the region's governor, Prince Faisal bin Bandar,
went to Riyadh "to seek assistance from the special forces of the Ministry
of Interior". US intelligence officers "should have recognised the significance
. that this 'extremist' group gained enormous popular support through propaganda
that directly targeted US, French and British troops".
Obaid quotes a former senior Pakistani
civil servant saying that in Afghanistan "the US provided the weapons and
the know-how, the Saudis provided the funds, and we provided the training
camps for the Islamic Legions in the early 1980s and then for the Taliban."
The Saudis and the US chose the Taliban,
Obaid says, with the belief that they would be able to take over Afghanistan.
But it was the Taliban's supreme commander who would later demand "a removal
of all US troops from Saudi Arabia". Ominously, Obaid adds, "this is the
same call made by Wahhabi fundamentalists in the Kingdom before the Riyadh
and Dhahran bombings. And if Mr bin Laden actually was behind these attacks,
there is even more reason to fear Taliban-inspired terrorism."
Obaid goes on: "According to a high-ranking
official in the [Saudi] ministry of justice, Sheikh Mohamed bin Jubier
[current chairman of the Saudi Consultative Council], who has been called
the 'exporter' of the Wahhabi creed in the Muslim world, was a strong advocate
of aiding the Taliban."
The connection should have been clear
to US operatives in the region, as it was known that the Taliban were largely
composed of Afghan refugees from Pakistani theological schools, whose clerics
"received their degrees from Saudi Arabia and taught a strict form of Wahhabi
theology and law".