Push India, Pak To Fix Kashmir: Saudi Prince To Obama

13 October 2009
The Indian Express

New Delhi: In what is being seen here as a disturbing indication of Indian diplomacy falling short of expectations in the Middle-East, one of Saudi Arabia’s most powerful and influential royal family members Turki al-Faisal has openly urged US President Barack Obama to push India and Pakistan to “fix” the Kashmir issue for his AfPak policy to make any progress. Saudi Arabia, he says, can play a supporting role. Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi intelligence for 24 years from 1977 to 2001 and who has served as Ambassador to US and UK, proposed a seven-point action plan for Obama to achieve progress in Afghanistan. This was spelled out in an article he wrote in the International Herald Tribune last Saturday. The fifth point of this action plan is to “push India and Pakistan to fix Kashmir.” “That is doable,” he wrote, “once both countries see a determined effort by the United States in that direction. Both countries are beholden to the United States: Pakistan for the military and financial support it receives and India for the atomic energy agreement it has signed with the United States. Saudi Arabia can play a supporting role.” The writer is the son of the powerful former King Faisal ibn Abdul Aziz Al Saud who was credited with modernizing the Saudi Arabian economy. Prince Turki’s stint as head of Saudi intelligence saw him preside over the massive operation to mobilize the mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He was considered to have played a significant role in building the mujahideen-ISI-Saudi-CIA nexus, wherein, the Mujahideen fought, ISI provided training, CIA and other US agencies helped with equipment while Saudi Arabia arranged the finances. He is considered among the most influential members of the royal family and so his comments do have an official weight. His remarks come at a time when India’s efforts to reach out to Saudi Arabia have not delivered results in the recent past. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was keen to visit the country as his first destination after assuming power in the second term but the trip could not work out. Both sides exchanged at least four to five sets of dates but the visit had to be called off on most occasions because of a last-minute change of mind in Riyadh. The visit was first scheduled in the UPA’s first term but that was the only time India asked for postponement because the PM had to undergo a bypass surgery. In Prince Turki al-Faisal’s scheme of things, Kashmir has to be integrated with the AfPak strategy to serve the larger purpose of helping Pakistan and Afghanistan settle their borders. “When Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari see resolution in Obama’s demands for benchmarks and for settling the border dispute between their countries, they will adhere. When India and Pakistan feel the strength of the American push on Kashmir, they will come along,” he wrote. His other suggestions include an effort to “fix the Durand Line” between Pakistan and Afghanistan; change the “media theme from attacking Taliban and calling them terrorists to concentrate on Al Qaeda and foreign terrorists”. And convene a meeting of intelligence agencies of “Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia to devise ways of eliminating Al Qaeda’s leadership,” and, of course, to strengthen Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. For India, this echoes what US Special Envoy on AfPak Richard Holbrooke had sought to embark upon soon after he took charge. But this had to take the backseat because of strong Indian opposition, particularly in light of 26-11 and Pakistan’s support to the Lashkar-e-Toiba. However, Saudia Arabia has always been a key player because of its extremely close links with the Pak leadership besides the huge financial assistance Riyadh provides Islamabad. It is also an active member of the Friends of Pakistan group and among its prime financial contributors.