This is not the first time that the Afghans have requested that Saudi Arabia intervene to end the conflict in their country, but is only the latest and most serious request, as can be seen by what the Afghan President said publicly during the London Conference last week. Karzai said that he looked forward to the “key role” that is played by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, and revealing his vision for Afghan reconciliation said “we hope that His Royal Highness King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz consents to play the role of guiding and supporting this [reconciliation] process.”
The question that must be asked today is: What is required from Saudi Arabia today; the rescue of Afghanistan, the US saving face, or is it Saudi Arabia becoming entangled in Afghanistan once again?
This comes after the so-called jihad against the Soviet Union, which was something that had its justifications at the time, in the same way that the Afghan request for Saudi intervention today is justified, particularly as this [request] comes from the Afghan President himself and the [political] parties. The experience of the Soviet invasion remains fresh in the minds of Saudi Arabians, especially as Saudi Arabia was helping Afghanistan at the time with the same help that Kabul is requesting today. However Riyadh ended up by being blamed [for what happened], and faced unfair attacks from Western and Arab media figures and politicians. It is true that there was a Saudi presence in Afghanistan during the Saudi invasion, but Saudi Arabia was not the only country present there, and it was not occupying Afghanistan.
Since some people have short memories or are trying to forget, let us recall the commends made by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal a few days ago on Afghanistan’s request to King Abdullah for mediation. He described this as a “great compliment” but said that “unless the Taliban give up the issue of sanctuary to terrorists and [Osama] Bin Laden and ends its ties with him, I do not think that the negotiations will be positive or feasible of achieving anything.” This is not a new Saudi position, and in fact this has been the Saudi position since before the September 11 attacks, and Prince Turki al-Faisal, who was the Saudi Intelligence Chief at the time, expended a great deal of effort trying to persuade the Taliban to stop sheltering Bin Laden and others, particularly as prior to this Saudi Arabia had revoked Bin Laden’s nationality. Even before terrorism became the main item on the agenda of international forums, an Afghan reconciliation agreement existed, to put a stop to the fighting of Afghan tribes. This agreement took place in March 1993 in Mecca under the auspices of King Fahd Bin Abdulaziz, may God have mercy on him, and this is evidence of Saudi Arabia’s concern for Afghan stability, not supporting the extremists there.
It is natural that the Afghans would return today to request a Saudi Arabian [mediation] role, because the Afghans do not accept “the foreigner” while Saudi Arabia has an Islamic and political credibility that allows it to meet and negotiate with Karzai. However what concerns us today is exercising caution to ensure that Saudi Arabia does not become entangled once again in Afghan issues, especially as the West, and particularly the US, decided following the events of September 11 to say that the ball is in Riyadh’s court [with regards to Afghanistan], as if they previously played no role in the country. Our fear is that history will repeat itself, albeit with different facts.