When the Saudi defence minister, prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz, appeared in Islamabad in May, and reportedly toured Pakistani nuclear installations with prime minister Nawaz Sharif, he congratulated his hosts on the acquisition of the latest military technology of which ‘the Muslim was proud’ - encouraging the impression that the Saudis might have agreed to finance the Pakistani nuclear effort. But a few short months later, after western protests, Saudi crown prince Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz appears to have made the elimination of weapons of mass destruction a personal crusade.
According to a statement issued by the Saudi cabinet on August 7, Abdullah confirmed that the kingdom stood by its “traditionally steadfast support for all efforts aimed at eliminating weapons of mass destruction throughout the world”, and expected all states to adhere to the relevant conventions.
“We expect from all states that have not signed the non-proliferation convention to adhere to it and to put their nuclear installation under international supervision,” he was quoted as saying. “The possession of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons by numerous states has terrifying implications as it is a source of threat to the environment and humanity, and could destroy civilization.”
For good measure, Abdullah also declared war, in the same statement, on ‘international terrorism’ - a move that is also clearly designed to please the kingdom’s US protectors. Hailing the Arab countries’ effort to eliminate this ‘worldwide scourge’ through the ‘anti-terrorism pact’, he urged the creation of international machinery to wipe it out. And as if to ensure that his pro-US line was fully grasped, he declared the kingdom’s abiding support for ‘the Middle East peace process’.
The Saudi media did not even bother to conceal the fact that Abdullah’s new enthusiasm for the US-led non-proliferation campaign is linked to western anger at Sultan’s visit to Pakistan in May. As a report in the Al-Hayat Arabic daily (owned by prince Khalid bin Sultan) put it, the Saudi hard-line stance on nuclear weapons followed rumours that the kingdom was planning to acquire nuclear capability with Pakistani assistance.
The ‘rumours’ were in fact western media reports quoting US and British officials as expressing alarm at the Saudi defence minister’s alleged tour of Pakistan’s two nuclear installations: one for uranium enrichment at Kahuta and one for missiles at Ghauri. The reports cited three reasons for the west’s disquiet: the highly secret nature of the installations, the vagueness of Saudi explanations for the visit and Pakistani denial of the reports.
A report in the International Herald Tribune quoted a US official as saying that “the Saudis haven’t told us the purpose of the visit and the Pakistanis have discounted them.” A Reuters report on August 4 quoted ‘a senior British official’ as expressing concern that “the world’s biggest oil producer might have agreed to finance the Pakistani effort” and might try to buy missile and nuclear expertise for itself.
But other reports and defence analysts say that the US administration is interested in acquiring missiles, not nuclear weapons technology. According to Paul Beaver, a British analyst with Jane’s Rocket and Missile Newsletter, the Saudis want to buy a new generation of missiles being tested by Pakistan, which have a range of 2,400 km (1,500 miles). The missiles can reach the main cities of both Iran and Iraq, Beaver pointed out.
The Americans and British are clearly concerned that Riyadh might, for propaganda reasons, be tempted to finance Pakistan’s nuclear project. By acquiring nuclear capability - despite US opposition and without any clear external help - Pakistan has undoubtedly earned the respect of many Muslims worldwide. And Saudi Arabia, which often poses as a generous benefactor to Muslim countries and communities, would not mind being associated with Pakistan’s weapons technology.
The Americans, who apparently hope that Pakistan will bankrupt itself in undertaking its nuclear effort, and ultimately fail to put a credible system in place, are determined to shut off any external funding for it, particularly from countries such as Saudi Arabia, which keep the US weapons industry in business. A recent American report shows the Saudi regime has been the biggest buyer of US weapons in the 1990s.
According to the report, published in Jones Mother magazine in early August, the kingdom has bought more than $24 billion worth of weapons since 1993, when Bill Clinton became president for the first time. The figure includes only weapons subject to presidential authorization, and does not include the cost of weapons bought directly from US weapons manufacturers. The overall figure is thought to be at least $40 billion.
Muslimedia: September 1-15, 1999