The World's Aaron Schachter reports on the Saudi influence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He says Pakistanis have been drawn to a Saudi style of Islam. But in Afghanistan, many blame Saudi Arabia for inspiring and supporting Afghanistan's fundamentalist Taliban.
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LISA MULLINS: The relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia has gone through a lot of ups and downs over the decades. One interesting chapter involves how the two countries responded to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. American and Saudi officials were on the same side. They helped the rebels, or the mujahadeen, who fought to end the Soviet occupation. But as The World's Aaron Schachter reports from Kabul, Afghanistan, the two nations were driven by different motivations.
AARON SCHACHTER: Back in the 1980's, the United States had one goal in helping the mujahadeen in Afghanistan: ending the Soviet occupation of the country. But that wasn't what Saudi Arabia had in mind, according to Pervez Hoodboy.
PERVEZ HOODBOY: The want the spread of their Salafi/Wahabbi ideology, which is a very harsh, puritanical form of Islam.
SCHACHTER: Hoodboy is a professor at Qaid e Azam University in Islamabad. He says the recruitment of Mujahadeen, or â€œholy warriorsâ€, to fight the Soviets set the tone for what he calls the â€œSaudi-izationâ€ of Pakistan and much of South Asia. Hoodboy says the problems began at the end of the 1970's with then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
HOODBOY: As he felt himself endangered and then started reaching out to the religious right wing in hope that his Prime Ministership would be spared and then his life would be spared. So he made Friday a holiday for the country, he banned liquor â€“ in spite of being rather fond of it himself. That was the first step down the steep, slippery slope.
SCHACHTER: Hoodboy says that slippery slope led in Pakistan to, among other things, compulsory prayer in government departments, public floggings, and selection for academic posts based on a demonstrated zeal for Islam. He says that kind of government-mandated religiosity isn't needed anymore because of what he calls a groundswell of Islamic zeal in Pakistan. It's a different situation next door here in Afghanistan. After five years of living under the Taliban, who preach a Saudi-style fundamentalist Islam, Afghans as a whole do not share the same religious fervor. They've seen what a religiously oriented government can do, and they don't want it, says Jahid Mohseni. He heads the Moby Group, a local media company.
JAHID MOHSENI: A lot of the people that are pushing religion are not necessarily pushing it from a religious perspective; they're actually pushing it from a political perspective. It's not driven by piety or by observing the principles of religion. If it was, we wouldn't have any corruption. If it was â€“ half the people who are fighting wouldn't be fighting anymore, et cetera. In terms of the general welfare of people, it would be very different.
SCHACHTER: Mohseni points out that much of the fighting in Afghanistan is the result of Saudi money being spread around in Pakistan. Some 1.5 million students are educated in Pakistan's 13,000 religious schools. Even if a small percentage of those kids are radicalized, it means there are a lot of recruits to fight in Afghanistan and elsewhere. But this brand of Wahabbism supported by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, among others, may soon change. The extremists have recently begun turning on their own governments. That's in large part because the ideology of radical Islam knows no borders. For The World, I'm Aaron Schachter in Kabul, Afghanistan.