LONDON – Former head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Turki al-Faisal, tried with very remarkable timing to distance himself and Saudi Arabia from any role in the rise of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan, noting that he was ten days before the events resigned from September 2001.
Prince Faisal also noted that contrary to popular belief, the Taliban had not adopted the Saudi interpretation of Sharia law (Islamic law). They are more likely to be Sufi Deobandi, he said, emphasizing that the Taliban are more committed to a religious ideology that is completely different from that of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab.
Prince Faisal spoke on September 22nd at a meeting of the Royal Society of Asian Affairs in London on the occasion of the publication of his book “The Afghanistan File”, edited by Michael Field.
The testimony of the former Saudi intelligence chief, who announced his resignation prior to the September events, came after the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released documents related to the 9/11 attacks.
His remarks also coincided with mounting pressure on Saudi Arabia along with Washington’s ongoing reorganization of relations with the Kingdom.
Prince Faisal noted that Saudi Arabia’s religious vision is completely different from that of the Taliban and al-Qaeda to dispel a common misconception that claims the two radical groups were inspired by Wahhabism.
Observers told the Arab Weekly that Prince Faisal was trying to distance the kingdom from al-Qaeda and other extremist groups.
According to the observers, Prince Faisal denied any Saudi role, direct or indirect, in the events of September 2001, even if most of the attacks were Saudis.
The lack of a prior relationship with the Taliban would allow Saudi Arabia to deal more freely with the new situation in Afghanistan, the observers added.
In previous statements, Prince Faisal had said that “Al-Qaeda targeted the kingdom first, before anyone else,” referring to Saudi Arabia.
In his most recent remarks, he emphasized the difference between âthe so-called Wahhabi interpretation of Islamic lawâ and the Taliban’s Deobandi school.
He noted that âthere is a lot of evidence, whether in the media or in academic books, that there was Wahhabi influence on the Taliban. However, this is not the case. “
In this regard, Prince Faisal insisted that “the Taliban have different ideological views”, noting that “the Deobandi ideology to this day defines the group’s vision”.
The Deobandi is an Indian Islamic school that combines strict Salafist thoughts and Sufism, which makes it a target of criticism from many Arab Sunni movements.
In his most recent statement, the Saudi intelligence chief also revealed important details about the Afghan files, saying he personally tried to obtain the extradition of Osama bin Laden in 1998, but then Taliban leader Mullah Omar rejected the idea in a major U-turn afterwards I agreed to it first.
The former Saudi intelligence chief said: “Mullah Omar has simply denied that he promised to extradite bin Laden or to set up a committee to look into it.”
He added: âAfter Mullah Omar said that Saudi Arabia should speak to bin Laden and that instead of fighting him, it should fight the imperialists, I just stood up and said, Mr. Omar, what you say and what You do will do harm. “To you and us … and on the way back to the kingdom I sent reports to the King and Crown Prince advising them to cut ties with the Taliban, which the Saudis eventually did.”
Prince Faisal also announced that Saudi Arabia had previously attempted to mediate between the Taliban and the government of former President Hamid Karzai, at the request of the latter.
He added: âThe Taliban delegation visited the kingdom and the Crown Prince, who later became King Abdullah, asked them: Have you severed your ties with al-Qaeda? That was before bin Laden’s death. Your answer was: No OK, we won’t be in contact with you until you disconnect from bin Laden. “
Although Prince Faisal raised many points of contention with the Taliban, he warned the international community not to abandon Afghanistan at this critical juncture. He also called for the need to support the country and urged the Taliban to take the necessary steps to back up their statements, to show the movement’s willingness to be open and cooperate.
Like no other Sunni country, Saudi Arabia is better placed to play a key role in Afghanistan. However, the kingdom does not want the country to become a launch pad for Iranian ambitions, as it has done in the past when Tehran used hot spots to gain a foothold in the region, particularly in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.