The safety and security of Saudi Arabia relies on an old strategy that has remained unchanged over time despite leadership changes in surrounding countries: There is the need for a strong Pakistan in the east, and a powerful and stable Egypt in the west. The Kingdom should maintain good and distinctive relations with these two countries, which represent its two wings, so that it can fly safely in its foreign relation endeavors.
This explains the positive attitude of the Saudi government toward Egypt. The Kingdom has ignored campaigns of hype and skepticism fueled by some writers, and perhaps by some officials, who are worried about and affected by an isolated situation in the region that fosters sensitivity toward the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood as the ruler of the largest Arab country. Saudi Arabia is officially maintaining good relations with Egypt. It is clear that Saudi Arabia sees Egypt as a nation first, and then considers who is governing it. This is in sharp contrast to those who consider the Muslim Brotherhood to be a defective party, even at the expense of their direct and immediate interests in the region.
Egypt is well and recovering, and our western wing is thus okay, but what about Pakistan?
There are many reasons for concern, and many things that Saudi Arabia can do there. Pakistan does not need financial support because all the money that goes there now will be lost. The United States, for example, is tired of Pakistan, as it has spent more than $2 billion there annually for the past several years, and yet no miracle was achieved; Pakistan is still in a cycle of violence, poverty, corruption and continuing failure. It is enough to make a comparison with India to realize the full extent of the deteriorating situation in Pakistan. In addition, while you can see the light at the end of the Egyptian tunnel, there is no light in any Pakistani tunnel except a mass of flames caused by the latest absurd suicide bombings.
The main problem lies in the mind of Pakistanis — my apologies, I know that my friends there will not be happy over the remark — who have increasingly given credence to all manner of conspiracy theories. For example, Pakistanis do not consume salt because they believe that the iodine content contains a chemical solution that causes infertility, which will stop Muslims from procreating. They see it as part of a Western-Indian plot against Muslims. This is not a joke or an exaggeration, but rather a real health disaster that the Pakistani Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization have addressed and are trying to solve.
This rumor began spreading two decades ago, and successive governments have been unable to refute it because Pakistanis usually do not trust officials. Religious leaders have unfortunately promoted the rumor and added a dimension of conspiracy to it by arguing that it is part of a continuous war against Muslims. These leaders have not rejected the rumor and warned their compatriots about the lack of iodine in their food, as they should have done.
This is a serious case. It has been proven in a survey conducted by academic and scientific authorities in Pakistan, including UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and the Ministry of Health of Pakistan, that iodine deficiency is one of the reasons behind the suffering of half of the 200 million populace from serious health disorders, such as miscarriage, goiter and mental retardation. Also, several reports have linked symptoms such as lethargy, low IQ, and the low rate of productivity in all Pakistanis, to the spread of this rumor. It is believed that this has further damaged the fragile Pakistani economy.
A polio vaccine is another alleged plot to spread infertility among Muslims. Not only is this a common belief but due to ignorance, poor reasoning and mock jurisprudence, some “religious” Pakistanis kill other Pakistanis, who are not even less religious than they are, just because they are involved in the campaigns of UNICEF and the country’s health authorities.
These are the same health campaigns that took place in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Muslim countries and they have succeeded in eradicating the disease. The Pakistani Taleban has killed nine men and women who participated in this campaign, despite its noble goals. This resulted in the Ministry of Health, UNICEF and voluntary associations stopping the campaign for several weeks. Earlier this month, this campaign resumed under the protection of armed police and volunteers. These are unbelievable stories, but this is what happens when extremism goes unchecked; it rears its head again in society.
Many blame the late President Zia ul-Haq for letting Satan out of the bottle. He allowed and encouraged fundamentalist and jihadist ideas, which has ancient roots in the Indian subcontinent since the famous revolution against the British in the eighteenth century. These extreme groups settled along the bordering areas with Afghanistan after the British enclosed them. Their ideas remained dormant and they continued looking for an opportunity to revive them, until the Afghan jihad against the Russians, which awakened them. They did well there, and thus Zia ul-Haq was encouraged to repeat the experience in Kashmir.
In the late nineties, I personally visited a training camp for Kashmiris. Under the pretext of the liberation of Kashmir, the goal of Zia ul-Haq and his effective “military intelligence” was to let them loose on India, which is a historic problem of Pakistan. However, after the Sept. 11 disaster, these extreme groups together with another Ul-Haq group along the border areas transformed from being “undercover” friends to enemies of the regime.
Extremism became the biggest disaster for Pakistan. It is in an advanced state there. It has spread, intellectually and practically, more in that nation than any other Muslim country. There are more suicide operations there than any other Islamic country (figures only challenged by Iraq). There is an online site that announces painful and reliable figures on the network called “the counter of the dead in Pakistan.” It noted that until last week, 369 suicide attacks were recorded in Pakistan killing 5,329 people.
These operations occur in the mosques, markets, and public places, and not only against army personnel. It is clear that the mufti of Pakistan’s Taleban does not see anything wrong with a young man committing suicide by blowing himself up in the public market or in the central meeting place of the general population, or even in a mosque to kill the targeted official. What sound reason can permit such an action?
Religious scholars in Pakistan are unable to do anything. Those who speak out and criticize the Taleban are killed. Another large group of scholars is opportunistic and employs religion in politics. These scholars keep silent about the crimes of the Taliban, to employ them in their conflict with the government. A third group has opted for safety and remained silent.