An influential member of the Saudi royal family, who headed the country’s intelligence service for 25 years, said Monday that Pakistan can survive the Taliban threat provided the military remains intact.
Prince Turki al-Faisal, former ambassador to Washington, also called for the speedy withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan, saying that they are “not welcome” there. He did not specify a deadline.
In addition, Prince Turki said the stigma of Sept. 11, in which 15 of 19 hijackers were Saudis, “will be with us forever.”
The prince, who oversaw funding that helped create the Taliban two decades ago during the fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, downplayed concerns about Pakistan’s stability despite Taliban advances close to the Pakistani capital and the fact that the country’s nuclear weapons are scattered across its territory, which makes it difficult to guard them.
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“As long as the armed forces are intact, the state is not going to be at risk,” Prince Turki told editors and reporters of The Washington Times.
He criticized the Pakistani government, suggesting it had not found a proper way of dealing with the Taliban, which he said was not a monolithic organization. He said the army did not want to intervene in politics but suggested that there could be a coup if the civilian government did not improve its performance.
“I’m sure that someone like [Army chief General Ashfaq] Kiyani, who is unwilling to play a more political role than he is doing now, doesn’t want to interfere in the politics of the situation,” Prince Turki said. He warned, however, that “the politicians in Pakistan - as everywhere - should get their act together and not lead to a situation where it could require someone like General Kiyani to intervene.”
Pakistan’s military leaders have repeatedly staged coups when they have decided that the elected government did not serve the nation’s interests. The current government follows the military regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in 1999 and stepped down in the face of widespread public opposition last year.
Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton accused President Asif Ali Zardari’s government of abdicating to the Taliban. She was referring to a truce finalized this month that gave Taliban fighters control of a scenic valley just 100 miles from the capital, Islamabad, after two years of fighting. In recent days, Taliban militants have moved even closer, to within 60 miles of the capital.
“Why are we so concerned about this? One of the reasons is nuclear weapons,” she told a House Appropriations subcommittee Thursday when asked about the truce. “We spend a lot of time worrying about Iran. Pakistan already has them, and they are widely dispersed in the country - they are not at a central location.”
Prince Turki also criticized the harsh interrogation methods used by the CIA during the Bush administration that have sparked controversy because of recently declassified memos authorizing those techniques at the time.
“If you want those you incarcerate to be reformed, you don’t treat them harshly - rather, you try to devise other ways,” he said. He referred to a Saudi rehabilitation program that includes “a psychiatric evaluation, reintroducing them to their kin folk and challenging their ideology” by having Islamic scholars talk with them.
The United Nations and various human rights groups regularly accuse Saudi Arabia of abusing prisoners, including by amputating limbs under Shariah law.
“Our security forces were not more morally unblemished jailers,” Prince Turki said, “but along the way, we learned from the experience.”
He added that “one of the biggest stumbling blocks” in his work as intelligence chief until 2001 was the U.S. protection of sources coming from other countries. If foreign intelligence services “have objections” to the CIA memos’ release, because they might implicate them in certain practices, they “will have to get over them,” he said.
Prince Turki, who is a nephew of King Abdullah and brother of Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, was ambassador to Washington from 2005 until 2007. He met several times with Osama bin Laden in the 1980s to persuade him to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. During that mission, he worked closely with the CIA and Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI.
A longtime U.S. ally that has suffered a significant image problem since it was revealed that 15 of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers hailed from the kingdom, Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil exporter. Last year, the U.S. imported from Saudi Arabia 1.5 million barrels of oil a day - more than 11 percent of total imports.
Prince Turki accused both the Obama and Bush administrations of “deceiving” the American people by telling them that the U.S. can end its dependence on foreign oil and described such comments by President Obama and former President George W. Bush as “pandering.”
“You can’t get rid of oil. You can’t get rid of fossil fuels - gas and coal - unless you want to price yourself out of existence,” he said. “I’d hope that the general public in the United States would be wiser than to be deceived into thinking that the U.S. can ever be energy independent.”
Richard M. Nixon in 1973 was the first U.S. president to pledge to end U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Mr. Bush made the issue one of the main points of his 2006 State of the Union address.
During his election campaign last year, Mr. Obama said, “I will set a clear goal as president. In 10 years, we will finally end our dependence on oil in the Middle East.”
On its Web site, the White House has outlined a plan on how to “eliminate our current imports from the Middle East and Venezuela within 10 years.” It includes increasing fuel economy standards, getting 1 million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015, creating “a new $7,000 tax credit for purchasing advanced vehicles” and establishing a national “low-carbon fuel standard.”
“The U.S. has rising energy needs despite the economic downturn,” Prince Turki said. “If you are going to be paying for wind, electric and solar energy equivalents that cost five or 10 times more than it costs to use oil, you are going to price yourself out of the market. You are going to lose whatever competitiveness you have in your products.”