| Saud al Faisal
New Delhi, Oct. 20: Saudi Arabia, the world’s most influential Muslim nation, has refused on Pakistani soil to make common cause with Islamabad on the Gujarat riots, delivering a rare rebuff to its traditional ally.
“They (Indian Muslims) are people with substance. They are people with courage and with enough of that courage to stand for their interests by themselves and not to wait for the help of others,” Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al Faisal said in Islamabad yesterday while answering a question on the Gujarat riots.
“I would hate to think of the Muslims in India as a minority, coming from a country that has less Muslims than the Muslims of India. So, these Muslims are not tattered in the wind,” the Saudi minister said in the presence of his Pakistani counterpart Khursheed M. Kasuri.
This is one of the most significant statements that the Saudis have made on Indian Muslims in recent times. The comments gather more importance as they came a few days after the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) Summit in Malaysia passed a resolution expressing concern over the plight of Indian Muslims and urged India to allow a team of the conference to visit Jammu and Kashmir.
India has not officially responded to the remarks made by al Faisal in Pakistan. But, in private, foreign ministry officials could not hide their glee at the public snub to Islamabad. Saudi Arabia has traditionally been seen as one of Islamabad’s strongest backers.
Sources in Delhi claimed that at a banquet given in the Saudi foreign minister’s honour, President Pervez Musharraf referred to the growing ties between India and Israel, but he did not get any response from al Faisal.
Riyadh has traditionally made common cause with the plight of Muslims in different parts of the world to strengthen and perpetuate a “pan-Islamic” ideology. At the OIC, though most anti-Indian resolutions were sponsored by Pakistan, it was Saudi Arabia which approved them from behind the scenes.
However, after the September 11 strikes in America, Saudi Arabia had taken care to distance itself from public postures that could be construed as encouraging extremist forces.
A number of suspects linked to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were Saudi nationals. A conscious attempt, therefore, is being made by Riyadh to dilute its traditional identity as the main champion of Islamic causes.
Moreover, relations between India and Riyadh have improved somewhat since the visit of Jaswant Singh to the country about three years ago. Singh, this time as finance minister, may again visit Riyadh at the end of the year to attend a joint economic commission meeting between the two sides.