- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Saudi reform

It may appear to be a small step toward political reform, but the Saudi ambassador is heralding the creation of a council of princes to decide the royal succession in the desert kingdom as a major advance toward democracy.

“This truly is a remarkable reform of what has been the traditional way of deciding the succession,” Prince Turki al-Faisal said at a forum in Washington this week.

The ambassador was discussing the Oct. 20 decision to formalize the process of choosing Saudi kings and crown princes through the creation of a “Bay’ah Council” of Saudi princes who will vote on the succession. The current process is less formal.

“The Bay’ah … is a contract between the ruler and the ruled,” he told the 15th annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations.

“The ruler obliges himself to protect, promote and enhance the lives and property of the ruled, and the ruled oblige themselves to protect, promote and obey the ruler in everything but that which counters the teachings of God.”

Prince Turki explained that the creation of the council is a significant amendment to the Saudi Constitution that has evolved since the establishment of the country under King Abdulaziz in 1932 and the “Basic Law” of 1992.

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, strictly follows Shariah law set forth in the Koran. Last year, King Fahd authorized local elections, but women and military men were prohibited from voting.

Prince Turki said the new council will vote on the succession and can even reject the king’s choice to assume the throne.

“Casting the ballot is an essential component of the election process,” he said.

However, he said further political reform will come at its own pace.

“We are not in a hurry to experiment with foreign interpretations of democracy or methods of governments,” the ambassador said.

“Saudi Arabia’s own form of representative government will be fed, vitalized and grown through our assessment of what will best serve Saudi Arabia and its people.”

Afghan complaints

The Afghan ambassador questioned whether Pakistani leaders have the will to wipe out Taliban terrorists trying to regain control of his country from inside Pakistan’s remote border regions.

“It will be difficult to fight terrorism effectively in Afghanistan unless we fight extremism in Pakistan,” Ambassador Said T. Jawad told the Council on Foreign Relations on a visit to New York last week.

Mr. Jawad noted that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf frequently expresses pride in his “very powerful army” and wondered why he does not move against the Taliban, the brutal rulers of Afghanistan overthrown by a U.S.-led coalition in 2001 because they sheltered Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network. Gen. Musharraf recently concluded an agreement with tribal leaders in border areas to withdraw troops after they pledged to prevent Taliban attacks on Afghanistan.

“We are sure that [Pakistan] has the capability of stopping terrorist infiltration into Afghanistan, if there is the will,” the ambassador said.

Mr. Jawad said the Taliban was able to regroup because it was “never completely eliminated.”

“They were just pushed aside, and then they acquired the necessary resources, the necessary assistance, ideological and logistical support,” he said, adding that coalition forces failed to establish a “sustained presence in all parts of Afghanistan.”

Mr. Jawad added that his government has been trying to appeal to Pakistan’s economic interests as another incentive to crush the Taliban.

“We have been trying to convince our friends in Pakistan that peace and stability in Afghanistan are beneficial for Pakistan,” he said.

Today, bilateral trade amounts to $1.4 billion a year, mostly in Pakistani exports to Afghanistan. Under the Taliban, two-way trade amounted to only about $30 million.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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