The New York Times makes a strong case that the most important player in Afghanistan’s future is not the United States, but Saudi Arabia, because Saudis are funding both sides of Afghanistan’s endless civil war.
“A longtime ally of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia has backed Islamabad’s promotion of the Taliban. Throughout the years, wealthy Saudi sheikhs and rich philanthropists have also stoked the war by privately financing the insurgents,” the Times explains. “All the while, Saudi Arabia has officially, if coolly, supported the American mission and the Afghan government and even secretly sued for peace in clandestine negotiations on their behalf.”
This results in a situation where rich Saudis can finance the Taliban, while government officials deny that any such support is officially provided. For example, former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to the United States Prince Turki al-Faisal insisted, “When I was in government, not a single penny went to the Taliban.”
But former Taliban Finance Minister Agha Jan Motasim said his many ostensible pilgrimages to the holy cities in Saudi Arabia were actually fundraising expeditions, collecting money not only from Saudi sheikhs, but wealthy Taliban-sympathizing Muslims from other parts of the world who were also on pilgrimage.
Motasim, incidentally, became a major player in a Saudi attempt to secretly broker a peace deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which the New York Times describes in detail to the American public for the first time. Unfortunately, a power struggle within the Taliban and charges of embezzlement against Motasim scuttled the effort.
On top of that, the Taliban reportedly shakes down Pashtun guest workers who travel to Saudi Arabia, threatening their families with harm unless the Islamist savages get a cut of their paychecks.
Several reasons for this double Saudi game are advanced during the Times article, but the most disturbing come from what the former State Department’s Vali Nasr describes as a Saudi strategy to contain Shia Islam and its super-power, Iran, by “building a wall of Sunni radicalism across South and Central Asia.”
The second most-disturbing reason: Saudi Arabia is engaged in a bidding war with Qatar to be the dominant power in the Sunni world. The Saudis are also building a network of universities and madrasas in Afghanistan to extend their religious and cultural influence, a strategy that has pumped a great deal of money into the hands of extremists groups – some of which are making unnerving Islamic State-like noises about founding a “Caliphate.” The Iranians are doing the same thing to gain influence over the Shiite population.