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Saudi rulers looking for 'another Musharraf' in place of 'rotten head' Zardari as Pak ruler

December 2, 2010 - Islamabad

The leaked US cables posted on whistle-blower website Wikileaks highlight how, in recent years, Saudi rulers have played favourites with Pakistani politicians, wielded their massive financial clout to political effect and even advocated a return to military rule in Pakistan.

"We in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants," The Guardian quoted the Saudi ambassador to the US, Adel al-Jubeir, as saying in 2007.

In January 2009, King Abdullah told James Jones, the then US national security adviser, that Zardari was incapable of countering terrorism, describing him as the "'rotten head' that was infecting the whole body".

He also said that Pakistan's army was "staying out of Pakistani politics in deference to US wishes, rather than doing what it 'should'".

Abdullah's preference for military rule was recorded by the Saudis' American guests: "They appear to be looking for 'another Musharraf': a strong, forceful leader they know they can trust," said the paper.

His views were echoed by the Interior Minister, who said that Saudi Arabia viewed the army as its "winning horse" in Pakistan.

The anti-Zardari bias appears to have a sectarian tinge, as Pakistan's Ambassador to Riyadh, Umar Khan Alisherzai, says that the Saudis, who are Sunni, distrust Zardari, a Shia.

Last year the United Arab Emirates' foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, told Hillary Clinton that Saudi suspicions of Zardari's Shia background were "creating Saudi concern of a Shia triangle in the region between Iran, the Maliki government in Iraq, and Pakistan under Zardari".

The Saudis, however, betray a strong preference for Sharif, who fled into exile in Jeddah in 2000 to avoid prosecution under the then military ruler Pervez Musharraf.

The leaked cables posted by WikiLeaks contain details of Sharif's secret exile deal - he was to remain out of politics for 10 years- as well as hints of Saudi anger when he returned to Pakistan in 2007. But, since then displeasure has abated, and the Saudis clearly view him as "their man" in the Pakistani power game.

In early 2008 the Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, described Sharif as a "force for stability" and "a man who can speak across party lines even to religious extremists".

But in Islamabad, American diplomats have sought to diminish Saudi influence by allying with another Muslim country- Turkey.

After a meeting with the Turkish ambassador in May 2009, US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson noted that the moderate, progressive Turkey presented a "positive role model" for Pakistan.

According to her, it was well positioned to "neutralise somewhat the more negative influence on Pakistan politics and society exercised by Saudi Arabia".


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