Commentary

Terrorist Sponsors: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China

The United States has assembled a superficially impressive international coalition against the threat of terrorism. Many countries in that coalition, however, contribute little of significance to the fight. Even worse, the willingness of some members of the coalition to actually combat terrorism is doubtful. Indeed, given their record, some of those countries appear to be part of the problem, not part of the solution. That concern is especially acute with respect to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and China.

Saudi Arabia enlisted in the fight against terrorism only in response to intense pressure from the United States following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Even then, its cooperation has been minimal and grudging. For example, Riyadh has resisted Washington’s requests to use its bases in Saudi Arabia for military operations against Osama bin Laden’s terrorist facilities in Afghanistan.

Even that belated, tepid participation is an improvement on Saudi Arabia’s previous conduct. The U.S. government has warned that it will treat regimes that harbor or assist terrorist organizations the same way that it treats the organizations themselves. Yet if Washington is serious about that policy, it ought to regard Saudi Arabia as a prime sponsor of international terrorism. Indeed, that country should have been included for years on the U.S. State Department’s annual list of governments guilty of sponsoring terrorism.

The Saudi government has been the principal financial backer of Afghanistan’ s odious Taliban movement since at least 1996. It has also channeled funds to Hamas and other groups that have committed terrorist acts in Israel and other portions of the Middle East.

Worst of all, the Saudi monarchy has funded dubious schools and “charities” throughout the Islamic world. Those organizations have been hotbeds of anti-Western, and especially, anti-American, indoctrination. The schools, for example, not only indoctrinate students in a virulent and extreme form of Islam, but also teach them to hate secular Western values.

They are also taught that the United States is the center of infidel power in the world and is the enemy of Islam. Graduates of those schools are frequently recruits for Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda terror network as well as other extremist groups.

Pakistan’s guilt is nearly as great as Saudi Arabia’s. Without the active support of the government in Islamabad, it is doubtful whether the Taliban could ever have come to power in Afghanistan. Pakistani authorities helped fund the militia and equip it with military hardware during the mid-1990s when the Taliban was merely one of several competing factions in Afghanistan’s civil war. Only when the United States exerted enormous diplomatic pressure after the Sept. 11 attacks did Islamabad begin to sever its political and financial ties with the Taliban. Even now it is not certain that key members of Pakistan’s intelligence service have repudiated their Taliban clients.

Afghanistan is not the only place where Pakistani leaders have flirted with terrorist clients. Pakistan has also assisted rebel forces in Kashmir even though those groups have committed terrorist acts against civilians. And it should be noted that a disproportionate number of the extremist madrasas schools funded by the Saudis operate in Pakistan.

China’s offenses have been milder and more indirect than those of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Nevertheless, Beijing’s actions raise serious questions about whether its professed commitment to the campaign against international terrorism is genuine. For years, China has exported sensitive military technology to countries that have been sponsors of terrorism. Recipients of such sales include Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Even though Chinese leaders now say that they support the U.S.-led effort against terrorism, there is no evidence that Beijing is prepared to end its inappropriate exports. At the recent APEC summit, China’s President Jiang Zemin was notably noncommittal when President Bush sought such a commitment. Whenever the United States has brought up the exports issue, Chinese officials have sought to link a cutoff to a similar cutoff of U.S. military sales to Taiwan — something that is unacceptable to Washington.

It is time for China, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia to prove by their deeds, not just their words, that they are serious about contributing to the campaign against international terrorism. In China’s case, that means ending all militarily relevant exports to regimes that have sponsored terrorism. In the cases of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, it means defunding terrorist organizations and the extremist “schools” that provide them with recruits. It also means severing ties with such terrorist movements as the Taliban and the Kashmiri insurgents. The world is watching the actions of all three countries.

Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and is the author or editor of 13 books on international affairs.