Skip to comments.Kingdom has big role to play in Afghanistan
Posted on 11/03/2001 7:15:13 PM PST by Lawrence of Arabia
JEDDAH, 4 November Prince Turki Al-Faisal, former director of intelligence in Saudi Arabia, knows Afghanistan and its leaders far better than most others. He has been closely involved with the country and its problems for nearly a quarter of a century. His interest began before the Russians invaded the country at the end of 1979 and has gone well beyond the usual limits of his job. It became a heartfelt attachment to what he believed was a just cause: an occupied people seeking independence. I could read these deep feelings on his face when he entered Kabul in April 1992 with Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. The two men were the first non-Afghan leaders to visit Kabul after its liberation.
In a comprehensive interview with Arab News and MBC television, Prince Turki explained the Kingdoms interests in Afghanistan and also the role of Saudi intelligence in trying to help it solve problems. He also spoke about Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al-Qaeda and the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.
Prince Turki expressed his hopes that current events in Afghanistan would lead to an end of the suffering which the Afghan people have endured for the last 25 years. He emphasized that they have been living with these problems and difficulties not only since the American campaign began but for 25 years. "The Afghan people deserve far better living conditions than they have at present," he said.
The prince said that Saudi Arabias efforts to assist Afghanistan were on orders of the government. The assistance was designed "to help them to help themselves as far as possible. We provided them with financial, military and moral support during their struggle against the Soviets." He noted that the Kingdom had been apprehensive that the Afghans would fight among themselves after the Russians withdrew and this is unfortunately exactly what happened. He said that, according to instructions from King Fahd, on several occasions he had personally tried to bring to an end the fighting between different groups of Afghan Mujahedeen. He praised the peace initiatives made in Afghanistan by various prominent Muslims, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Muslim World League and the government of Pakistan. "All these efforts, however, were in vain but they must continue. We must build a brighter future for the Afghan people in order to compensate for all they have suffered in the past."
On Saudi Arabias future role in Afghanistan against the backdrop of American policies, he said: "Saudi Arabia has a big role to play. It has established good relations with all the parties involved and is willing to continue its search for peace. The United States earlier played a role in Afghanistan with the support of both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. They were the three countries which extended help to the Afghan people." When Prince Turki was asked if the Kingdom favored any particular Afghan faction, he replied with a smile, "Yes, we prefer the Afghan people."
Prince Turki compared the present US-led military offensive with the Soviet campaign. "There is a big difference. The Soviet Union wanted to occupy Afghanistan, keeping one eye on Pakistan and a warm water port on the Arabian Sea or even in the Gulf." The prince was alluding to the Soviet Unions Cold War ambition and those of the previous Russian state for centuries to have a warm water port. Afghanistan was seen as a first step toward that goal. "The United States, on the other hand, does not intend to occupy Afghanistan. It has spelled out a specific aim following the Sept. 11 attacks." Addressing the relations between the Taleban, which control most of Afghanistan, and Osama Bin Laden, Prince Turki said: "The Taleban have put themselves in a quandary. When they occupied the eastern city of Jalalabad in 1996, Bin Laden was there, being sheltered by Sheikh Yunus Khales, a former Mujahedeen leader. The Taleban pledged that they would not allow Bin Laden to harm the Kingdoms interests, either in words or deeds, and they seemed to take their pledge seriously. The prince continued, "But they failed to pressure Bin Laden into stopping certain of his activities that endangered security. If the Taleban were a sovereign government controlling the areas they allegedly ruled, we wanted to know how it exercised that control and sovereignty. If they were unable to exercise control and sovereignty, then they should have yielded to those who could."
Concerning Bin Ladens history, he said: "The statements and fatwas he has issued over the past seven years give a good idea of how he thinks. In short, Bin Laden wants to fight the whole world because he sees dishonesty and corruption in it."
Prince Turki spoke candidly and in some detail about two secret visits he made to Kandahar, the first one in June 1998. "King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah sent me to meet Mulla Omar to persuade him to hand Bin Laden over to the Kingdom. This was because of some of his acts and statements and the Saudi move grew out of the Talebans promise not to allow Bin Laden to harm the Kingdoms interests. I asked Mulla Omar to hand him over and he agreed. I was told their interests were with us and not with any individual. Mulla Omar asked me to inform the king and the crown prince that he wanted to set up a joint Saudi-Afghan committee to arrange procedures for the handover." Prince Turki also mentioned the visit to the Kingdom by Abdul Wakeel, an adviser to Mulla Omar who later became the Taleban foreign minister.
"He came to tell the crown prince that the Kingdoms request for Bin Laden had been approved and that a joint committee to oversee the handover was being set up."
A few weeks later the bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es-Salaam occurred in which hundreds of people were killed. The prince continued, "One of the perpetrators of the attacks, a Bin Laden supporter, confessed during interrogation in Pakistan that Bin Laden had given the orders for the bombings and that the plans were made with his support and guidance."
In September, Prince Turki went to Kandahar again and this time, the Taleban were not as cooperative as they had been. "I wished I had not gone. After previously agreeing to hand the man over, I discovered Mulla Omar had reversed his decision and he was abusive about the Kingdom and its people. Under those circumstances, I had no choice but to break off negotiations. I still remember, however, that as I was leaving, I told Mulla Omar that one day he would regret his decision and that the unfortunate Afghan people would pay the price."
Prince Turki said that during the second round of meetings, he saw that Mulla Omar and Bin Laden thought alike. "I saw that Mulla Omar made decisions arbitrarily and capriciously and once made, he was not interested in revising them. The decision to ban womens education is an example of what I am talking about. At first, we were told that the decision was made because of a lack of facilities but even after the United Nations and other organizations promised money for building schools, the ban was not lifted."
Prince Turki also spoke of Mulla Omars intransigence during talks aimed at reconciliation with the opposition. "The Taleban were always the first to withdraw from the talks." The prince supported the measures taken by Pakistans President Pervez Musharraf. "The measures are sufficient to ensure security and stability in Pakistan." Speaking about the protest demonstrations in Pakistan: "They have exceeded reasonable limits and I hope they will cease." He pointed out that the parties, which used Islam to provoke protests, represented only 10 percent of Pakistans population.
I asked Prince Turki why his recent article about Bin Laden in Asharq Al-Awsat was such an angry one and he answered quickly, "Why shouldnt I be angry? People who were not angry after hearing what he said about the attacks in New York and Washington are unfeeling." He added that what disturbed and upset him most was to hear Bin Laden boasting of having killed innocent people in their workplaces and threatening more of the same. As for the insistence on presenting proof of Bin Ladens guilt, Prince Turki asked if his fatwas (edicts) were not themselves evidence enough. In them, Bin Laden called for attacking all Americans, whether civilian or military. He declared on television that every American taxpayer was a target. Prince Turki also reminded us of the confession made by one of those responsible for the embassy bombings. He described those who committed the Sept. 11 attacks as criminals and said, "They are not the children of Islam as Bin Laden claimed. Those who still call for evidence are closing their eyes to the facts and are searching for justification of his acts."
The former chief of Saudi intelligence disclosed that Bin Laden used someone else to issue edicts for him. "Some may say that if you dont commit the act yourself, you are innocent. You may not have crashed the plane into the building or put the bomb into the car but you are responsible for those who did. And those people who follow this line of reasoning think Bin Laden has a way out. But he doesnt; God will punish him," he explained.
On the effects of the crisis on Saudi Arabia, Prince Turki said whatever disrupted the Muslim world and its interests would have an impact on the Kingdom. He said Saudi Arabia had "experienced crises in the past and would no doubt experience them in future. We address all crises relying for support on two things: our strong faith in God Almighty and our citizens who rally behind their leaders."
The prince commented further: "The presence of international terrorism which affects everyone plus an organization such as Al-Qaeda which threatens the entire world undoubtedly demands a response from the Kingdom. It must offer all its resources and whatever information it has to control the cancer which will spiral out of control if left unchallenged."
Prince Turki commended the response by the Saudi people to the recent telethon to help the Afghan people. He spoke of it as proof of the citizens confidence that their interests would not be affected. "Those who are worried and anxious about themselves do not donate to others." He noted that the amount raised in 11 hours was some SR130 million.
Prince Turki reacted angrily to claims by American analysts that Saudi Arabia breeds terrorism. "
This is totally unacceptable. Let them look at what they have, at the terrorist organizations in their own country. In the United States there are 200 terrorist organizations, targeting not only domestic interests but those of the entire world. Instead of highlighting a very small minority of bad people, they should look at the thousands of others who are the peaceable and peace-loving majority."
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