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WikiLeaks cables: Saudi Arabia wants military rule in Pakistan

King Abdullah and ruling princes distrust Asif Ali Zardari, the country's Shia president, and would prefer 'another Musharraf' • Full coverage of the WikiLeaks cables
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Declan Walsh in Islamabad guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 1 December 2010 10.00 GMT Article history

WikiLeaks cables: Billboards showing then-president Pervez Musharraf and King Abdullah during a visit by the Saudi monarch in 2006. The Saudis have said they would prefer a return to military rule in Pakistan. Photograph: Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Images America is often portrayed as the big dog in Pakistan's yard: a swaggering power that makes rules, barks orders and throws its weight around. But the WikiLeaks cables highlight the understated yet insistent influence of another country with ideas about Pakistan's future: Saudi Arabia.

In the 1980s Saudi intelligence. that Zardari was incapable of countering terrorism. Last year the United Arab Emirates' foreign minister. Since then. wielded their massive financial clout to political effect and even advocated a return to military rule. however. Abdullah added that Pakistan's army was "staying out of Pakistani politics in deference to US wishes." the Saudi ambassador to the US. who is viewed with thinly veiled contempt. As home to Islam's holiest sites. Saudi Arabia has longstanding ties with Pakistan. The anti-Zardari bias appears to have a sectarian tinge." His views were echoed by the interior minister. Nawaz Sharif. along with the CIA. The Saudis betray a strong preference for Sharif. Asif Ali Zardari. the Maliki government in Iraq. who fled into exile in Jeddah in 2000 to avoid prosecution under General Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan's ambassador to Riyadh. Umar Khan Alisherzai. told Hillary Clinton that Saudi suspicions of Zardari's Shia background were "creating Saudi concern of a Shia triangle in the region between Iran. described Sharif as a "force for stability" and "a man who can speak across party lines even to religious extremists". rather than doing what it 'should'".In recent years Saudi rulers have played favourites with Pakistani politicians. and Pakistan under Zardari". since then the Saudis have given billions in financial aid and cut-price oil. who said Saudi Arabia viewed the army as its "winning horse" in Pakistan. The cables contain details of Sharif's secret exile deal – he was to remain out of politics for 10 years – as well as hints of Saudi anger when he returned to Pakistan in 2007. boasted in 2007. In January 2009 Abdullah told James Jones. then the US national security adviser. In early 2008 the Saudi foreign minister. Saudi displeasure has abated. who are Sunni. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed. we are participants. "We in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan. with King Abdullah and the ruling princes displaying a clear preference for the opposition leader. over the president. describing him as the "'rotten head' that was infecting the whole body". But the close relationship has grown "increasingly strained" in the past two years. Saud al-Faisal. distrust Zardari. Adel al-Jubeir. Abdullah's preference for military rule was recorded by the Saudis' American guests: "They appear to be looking for 'another Musharraf': a strong. . funded the anti-Soviet "jihad" in Afghanistan. says the Saudis. and the Saudis clearly view him as "their man" in the Pakistani power game. American officials noted that Sharif had obtained preferential business deals during his time in Saudi Arabia. forceful leader they know they can trust. A senior US official later bemoaned as "negative" the Saudi influence. a Shia.

" fretted an economic counsellor at the Pakistani embassy. The king was unhappy that he made his first official visit to China and skipped the opening of a new university in favour of meetings in Europe and the US. while the annual aid cheque of $300m was well below the regular rate. It was well positioned. she said. to "neutralise somewhat the more negative influence on Pakistan politics and society exercised by Saudi Arabia". Turkey. . Palestine and Pakistan. progressive Turkey presented a "positive role model" for Pakistan. After a meeting with the Turkish ambassador in May 2009. In late 2008 Pakistani officials complained that "not a drop" of Saudi oil promised at concessionary rates had been delivered. US officials noted that the go-slow was part of a broader Saudi policy of "withholding assistance" – slowing the flow of cash and oil – when it suited policy in Lebanon. US diplomats see the Saudis as allies but also competitors for influence in Pakistan. "Muslim brotherhood is not what it used to be. ambassador Anne Patterson noted that moderate. "God forbid!" responded the prince.Pakistani officials echo the American fears about the radicalizing influence of Saudi money. especially if its nuclear weapons fell into unfriendly hands. In April 2008 Pakistani interior advisor Rehman Malik said he was "particularly concerned about the role of the Saudi ambassador in funding religious schools and mosques" in Pakistan. American diplomats have sought to diminish Saudi influence by allying with another Muslim country. who used them against Pakistan for much of the 1990s." Zardari has asserted his independence from the Saudis. In 2009 special envoy Richard Holbrooke warned Prince Mohammed bin Nayef of "unimaginable" consequences for Saudi Arabia if Pakistan fell apart. Such economic tactics may be familiar to US officials. some of it from the government. But in Islamabad.Meanwhile the Saudis have pressured Zardari with oil and money. "Malik said that [President] Musharraf had come close to "throwing him (the Saudi ambassador) out of the country" but Malik said he knew the Saudi royal family well and would work with them.