Only days after a suicide-bomb attack in Kashmir on a convoy of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) killed at least 40 security personnel and injured many more, Mohammed Bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia – arguably, one of the largest state sponsors of terrorism – was welcomed by the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
In a long and winding joint statement that was issued by the two leaders after a meeting on February 20, it is stated that in order to “enhance further cooperation in the Counter-terrorism efforts and benefit mutually from real-time intelligence sharing, the two sides agreed to constitute a ‘Comprehensive Security Dialogue’ at the level of National Security Advisors and set up a Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism.”
“The Prime Minister and His Royal Highness condemned in the strongest terms, the recent terrorist attack on Indian security forces on 14 February, 2019 in Pulwama in Jammu & Kashmir,” the statement reads.
The responsibility for this attack – following which Kashmiris across the country are facing harassment at the hands of right-wing forces – was claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). This Pakistan-based terrorist organisation was founded in 2000 by Masood Azhar, closely linked to the al-Qaeda, after his release by Indian authorities in exchange for the release of 155 hostages held in an Indian airlines flight that was hijacked and flown to Afghanistan.
According to the UN, the crucial support for its formation was provided by Al-Qaeda, which was funded directly by the then chief of the organization, Osama bin Laden. Apart from the fact that Osama hailed from a wealthy Saudi family which has historically maintained a close relationship with the innermost circle of the royal al-Saud family, there is a cache of other evidences based on which the US – which regards Saudi government as one of the most important allies in the region – has also admitted on multiple occasions the direct role played by it in sponsoring terrorism worldwide.
A 2003 report (maintained a secret till 2016), prepared after a US congressional investigation into 9/11, compiled a large amount of evidences which demonstrated that the Saudi government and members of the royal family, and not simply rich individuals in the country, were aiding al-Qaeda.
In an attempt to sue the Saudi government and members of the royal family, 7,630 people, made up of survivors of 9/11 attacks and family members of the killed, had filed a lawsuit. Among the thousands of pages of documents compiled by their lawyers to prove the link between the royal family and terrorist groups, was a then top secret report from the US treasury department. The report provided crucial evidence to demonstrate that the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), which was listed by the UN as a terrorist entity until 2014, was largely run by the members of the royal family.
The executive director of one IIRO’s Saudi Arabia branches in 2006 was Al-Mujil, who was a close associate of al-Qaeda co-founder Abdallah Azzam and of Osama bin Laden himself. “Al-Mujil provided donor funds directly to al Qaida and is identified as a major fundraiser for the Abu Sayyaf Group and Jemaah Islamiyah. Both.. are al Qaida-associated terrorist groups in Southeast Asia..” according to a 2006 press release by the US treasury department.
Laden’s brother in law and senior member of al-Qaeda, Muhammad Jamal Khalifah, was the founder of Philippines branch of IIRO. One of the board members of this branch at the time was the Saudi Ambassador.
Another such charity was the Third World Relief Agency (TWRA), through which tens of millions of dollars was funnelled into al-Qaeda during the war in Bosnia in early 1990s. The largest contributor to the TWRA is the Saudi government. During the Bosnian war, about $120.5 million was directly transferred to the TWRA by the then governor of the capital city of Riyadh, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, according to a German investigation whose report was a part of the material compiled in the lawsuit.
This prince became the King of Saudi Arabia in 2015. It was to receive his son, crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman, that Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke government protocol by personally presenting himself at the airport.
Any assumption on the Indian side that the Prime Minister giving one of his famous hugs to the prince and setting up a “Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism” with Saudi Arabia will help tackle Pakistan-based terrorist groups targeting India, is nothing but wilful ignorance of the full extent of Saudi support on which these groups have been relying.
Saudi Arabia Financial Backbone of Virtually All Threats to India from Islamist Fundamentalism
The relationship between Saudi establishment and JeM is not limited to the fact that the group was formed with the support of and funding from al-Qaeda. A leaked cable sent from Lahore by the US State department’s Bureau of Security and Consular affairs in 2008 estimates that the JeM, along with two other such ‘charitable’ organizations received $100 million funds from Saudi Arabia every year. As recently as last October, the JeM terrorist who facilitated the attack by Pakistani operatives on Indian forces in Jammu in November 2016 was arrested from Delhi airport, when he was on his way to Saudi Arabia.
The other two organisations sharing the annual $100 million Saudi fund were Jamat-ud-Dawa and the Al-Khidmat foundation. Founded by one of India’s most wanted Pakistan-based terrorist, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, Jamat-ud-Dawa is the political arm of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which is arguably the one Pakistan-based group which has inflicted the greatest terrorist violence on India.
Mahmoud Bahaziq, the person identified by the UN as the “main financier behind the establishment of the LeT and its activities in the 1980s and 1990s”, is a Saudi national who raised funds from various Saudi NGOs as well as wealthy businessmen in establishment circles.
“Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, LeT” as admitted in a 2009 state department cable by Hillary Clinton.
The other institution sharing the Saudi fund is the Al Khidmat foundation, which is the charitable arm of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). In 1989, JI founded the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) in Kashmir at the request of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in order to counter the then rising influence of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), which was a homegrown secular armed group organised to fight for an independent Kashmir, free from both India and Pakistan.
Months after one of HM militants, Burhan Wani, was killed by the Indian forces in an encounter in 2016, Saudi-fund recipient Hafiz Naeem ur Rehman, who heads the Al Khidmat foundation and presides over the Karachi chapter of the JI, commemorated his ‘martyrdom’, and declared that “Jihad is the only way forward to liberate occupied Jammu and Kashmir”, referring to the part of the state under Indian administration.
Rehman has shared stage in press conferences with Supreme commander of HM, Syed Salahuddin, who has “vowed to block any peaceful resolution to the Kashmir conflict, threatened to train more Kashmiri suicide bombers, and vowed to turn the Kashmir valley “into a graveyard for Indian forces”,” according to a 2017 press release by the US state department.
The Saudi connection to Islamist terrorism in India is not limited to the act of funding India-focused terrorist outfits based in Pakistan. Saudi Arabia has also played a crucial role in promoting Wahhabism within India by setting up a network of madrassas and workshops helmed by extremist Wahhabi preachers. In the period between 2011 and 2013, a record number of 25,000 Wahhabi preachers arrived in the country to conduct seminars. India’s Intelligence Bureau noted in a report, adding, “With them they brought in $250 million (of Saudi funds) in several instalments and used it to propagate the Wahhabi style of Islam.”
According to The New Arab, “Reports further claim a sum of $460 million (INR 3 billion) has been earmarked to set up madrasas (religious schools) while the remaining $300 million USD (INR 2 billion) has been set aside as miscellaneous costs, including alleged bribes to mosque authorities.”
One prominent personality promoting religious extremism in India is Zakir Naik, who through his Peace TVreaches over a 100 million viewers. For glorifying Osama Bin Laden as the “soldier of Islam” and providing justification for terrorist activities, Naik has been censured and denounced by Indian imams, but is hailed in Saudi Arabia.
Only last year, the Indian government, which is seeking Naik’s extradition over terrorism charges, made an unsuccessful attempt to have the Interpol issue an arrest warrant against him. In 2015, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, father of the crown prince with whom Modi vowed to jointly fight terror, had awarded Naik the $200,000 King Faisal International Prize for “service to Islam”.
According to Christophe Jaffrelot, Saudi funds have also been made available to the deceptively named Popular Front of India (PFI) and the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), both of which are home-grown fundamentalist Islamist organisations accused by India’s National Investigation Agency of engaging in terrorist acts. A number of members of the Hindu-supremacist far-right paramilitary organisation called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), of which Prime Minister Modi himself has been a long-time member, have also been killed by PFI and SDPI members.
The BJP-led government has on the one hand responded to these threats by promoting a suspicion about the loyalties of the entire Muslim community in the country, and putting the army on a war-footing in Kashmir, refusing to engage in a serious political dialogue with the separatists who have a massive local support. On the other hand, the PM has agreed to “enhance further cooperation in the Counter-terrorism efforts” with Saudi Arabia, which forms the financial backbone of virtually all the terrorist threats India faces from Islamist fundamentalism.
This demonstrates a complete failure of the current Indian government and its security establishment in comprehending the very nature of the threats to national security, which not only endangers the security of the Indian people but also weakens the prospect of eliminating the global terrorist networks.