The Saudi–British Nexus: “Saudi Arabia has always relied heavily on Pakistan in shaping its policy towards Afghanistan. During the jihad of the 1980s, Saudi funds and expertise were channelled to the mujahidin almost exclusively through the ISI. During the Taliban regime, Saudi Arabia was one of only three states (with Pakistan and the UAE) to establish diplomatic relations with the Taliban government of Mullah Omar.”50
Also read: Salvaging America’s Botched Strategic Foray into Asia – I
In 2007, Saudi Arabia began to adjust its orientation once the Taliban began to threaten the internal security of Pakistan. It is also notable that Saudi Arabia paid greater respect to President Karzai during his last visit and Saudi Arabia made an unprecedented pledge at the Paris Conference in 2008. The Saudi royal family remains highly ambiguous in its posture towards Afghanistan today. The Taliban are still held in high esteem and are regarded as legitimate successors to the mujahidin of the 1980s: their Deobandi views are closer to those of Saudi Arabia’s Wahabis. This is particularly so in relation to the more conventional Sufi-influenced approach to Islam historically prevalent in Afghanistan.51
The Saudi royal family remains highly ambiguous in its posture towards Afghanistan today. The Taliban are still held in high esteem and are regarded as legitimate successors to the mujahidin”¦
The Saudi interest in backing the British plan in Afghanistan lies in pushing Wahabism throughout the Islamic countries and to become the leader of the Sunni world. On 6 June 2007, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) aired a sensational story, revealing that the British arms manufacturer BAE Systems had paid more than $2 billion in bribes to Saudi Arabia’s national security chief and long-time ambassador in Washington, Prince Bandar bin-Sultan. The al-Yamamah arms contract was a nearly $80 billion 22-year-long deal between BAE Systems and the Saudi government, in which British-made fighter jets and support services were provided to the Saudi kingdom beginning in 1985.
The al-Yamamah deal was structured as a barter arrangement in which Saudi Arabia agreed to provide Britain with one tanker of oil per day for the entire life of the al-Yamamah contracts. An oil tanker holds approximately 600,000 barrels of oil. BAE Systems began “official” delivery of the Tornado and Hawk planes to Saudi Arabia in 1989. BAE Systems now has approximately 5,000 employees inside Saudi Arabia servicing the contract.
According to sources familiar with the inner workings of al-Yamamah, much of the Saudi oil was sold on the international spot market at market value through British Petroleum (BP) and Royal Dutch Shell.
Using BP’s average annual cost of a barrel of Saudi crude oil, an economist concluded that the total value of the oil sales, based on the value of the dollar at the time of delivery, was $125 billion. In current U.S. dollar terms, that total soars to $160 billion. The extra cash of more than $100 billion, a slush fund, thus generated over 23 years was used to fund various movements, many of which were targeted against sovereign nation states.
Once London came to the conclusion that Washington, both in Afghanistan and inside the United States, is losing the war and its staying power is subsiding by the hour, it called for an international conference”¦
Anthony Loyd of the Times of London in an article, “Terror link alleged as Saudi millions flow into Afghanistan war zone,” reported on 31 May 2010, pointed out that according to members of the Afghan financial intelligence unit, FinTraca, the funds, totalling more than £920 million, enter from Pakistan, where they are converted into rupees or dollars, the favoured currency for terrorist operations. The £920 million, or 5 billion Saudi riyals, monitored by FinTraca since 2006, has accelerated, peaking this year. Most of it entered Afghanistan through the Pakistani tribal area, in particular North Waziristan, which is infamous as al-Qaeda’s heartland.52
Mohammed Mustafa Massoudi, the director general of FinTraca in Kabul, said that the Saudi riyals were moved from Waziristan to Peshawar, capital of the NWFP, where Pakistani nationals were used to exchange the cash for local currency or dollars.
Exactly what happens to this cash is unclear, given the murky nature of the transactions and the absence of controls on money leaving or entering Afghanistan. The riyals, in the hands of Pakistani money changers, are recycled back into regular cash channels, also through Afghanistan, Loyd wrote.
Britain’s Diplomatic Offensive
Once London came to the conclusion that Washington, both in Afghanistan and inside the United States, is losing the war and its staying power is subsiding by the hour, it called for an international conference at London. That took place on 28 January 2010 and became the cornerstone of London and Riyadh’s diplomatic policy for the post-war Afghanistan. The purpose of the London conference was to set in motion, and make Washington accept, a London–Riyadh designed policy whereby the British and Saudi interests in Afghanistan remain intact and allow them to gain basic control of that country.
The peace and reintegration strategy deemed that peace can be achieved only when fighters and commanders in the armed opposition are successfully reintegrated into their communities.
The stated aim of the London conference, however, was to agree upon a comprehensive agenda designed to put Afghanistan on a sustainable path to peace, stability and development. The peace and reintegration strategy deemed that peace can be achieved only when fighters and commanders in the armed opposition are successfully reintegrated into their communities. This strategy assumed two levels—a tactical and an operational level. The tactical approach was already underway in Helmand with NATO’s Operation Marjah. The concept behind the tactical approach is that only when the scale of insurgency is reduced sufficiently will the Afghan government be able to reintegrate the Taliban foot soldiers and local commanders in to the national mainstream. The operational level envisages a process of dialogue between the Afghan leadership and senior members of the Taliban movement. This will entail provisions of amnesty for those who disarm and disengage from international terror groups.53
The real objective of this “comprehensive agenda” was to handpick Taliban leaders who had always been close to London and Riyadh. These leaders would bring in their groups to be disarmed and take oath that they have disengaged from international groups. These Taliban leaders in essence would be “small fries.”54
An important facilitating component of the overall strategy is the delisting of some Taliban members from the UN blacklist. Negotiating terms for a peaceful resolution of a conflict is seldom easy when those with whom you are negotiating have international sanctions and bounties on them, London argued. Confidence building measures must be in place in order to facilitate the reintegration process although that by itself is not enough.
Moscow continues to be concerned with anti-Russian terrorist activities in the southern states of the federation and the central Asian republics. This is aggravated by the increasing movement of drugs to the north from Afghanistan.
The UN’s al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctions committee drew up the blacklist under resolution 1267 a decade ago, when the Taliban regime was isolated for harbouring Osama bin Laden. It included former ministers, diplomats, governors and officials, as also their al-Qaeda guests. Several have been subsequently killed, but others are still at large and thought to remain influential in the insurgency. Those on the list, including Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, have their assets frozen and are banned from international travel. Removal would require a request from the Afghan government followed by a vote from the five permanent members of the Security Council. Kai Eide, former UN envoy to Afghanistan, reiterated this perception back in January, contending that while he was not calling for the removal of Mullah Omar or his most senior lieutenants from the blacklist, “if you want relevant results you have to talk to relevant people with authority.”55
Another important element of this “comprehensive agenda” is to handout a sum of US$140 million over the next five years to facilitate the reintegration process. The sum was agreed upon although many have described this as a “buyout” of London–Riyadh’s Taliban leaders as a fallout of the “unwinnable” war. The logic behind the “buyout” is the belief that a majority of the Taliban, or the so-called $10 fighters, are more moderate than the top strata of the insurgency and thus open to negotiations. In other words, London and Riyadh will oversee the buying out of their Taliban leaders, identifying them as “moderates,” and use the international money to achieve that end.