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Pakistan May Lose Crucial Backing as Saudi Arabia Turns to India

6:15 AM, Oct 25, 2012 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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Saudi Arabia, moreover, is interested in energy sales to India. And its expulsion of jihadist suspects to India comes amid a series of reforms directed by Saudi King Abdullah that aim to distance the kingdom from hard-line clerics within Wahhabism, the fundamentalist state interpretation of Islam. King Abdullah’s reform agenda includes the expansion of women’s education.

In this context, both Saudi Arabia and India were disturbed gravely by the near-fatal shooting of Malala Yousufzai, the 15-year old girl targeted by the Pakistan Taliban for her dedication to educating her peers, and now recuperating in Britain. The bullet that struck Malala Yousufzai may have helped spur a Saudi turn away from Pakistan and towards greater cooperation with India.

Because India competes with Pakistan for influence in Afghanistan, the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban, in addition to LeT, have targeted India. The appearance of the Indian Mujahideen and similar groups aligned with al Qaeda has deeply unsettled India’s non-Muslim majority and its Muslim minority, the latter having maintained a position of Indian patriotism in recent years. Homicidal attacks on India’s ubiquitous Sufi shrines have been followed by revelations of success by the Indian Mujahideen in recruiting members of the Indian Muslim elite, including medical, engineering, information technology, journalism, and governmental professionals.

Radicalization from Pakistan has divided Indian Islamic institutions. Deobandism, a Wahhabi-like fundamentalist faction, was created in 19th-century British India, and its Indian wing was traditionally non-violent, although bigoted and fanatical. But the Afghan Taliban were inspired by the Pakistani branch of the Deobandi trend, and were recruited from Deobandi medresa students in Pakistan. Deobandis in India preach that other Indian Muslims, especially spiritual Sufis and Shia Muslims, are apostates, and Indian Deobandis now participate in bombings and similar horrors inside India.

An indefatigable and widely-respected Indian Sunni Sufi, Maulana Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichowchhwi, General Secretary of the All-India Ulema and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), based at Lucknow in north India, has undertaken bold initiatives to affirm Muslim allegiance to India. Last year, Kichowchhwi, who also advocates education of girls, called for the expulsion of Wahhabi and Deobandi agitators from Indian Muslim communal institutions. He declared, “Sufi and Sunni Muslims are nationalists and are always ready for any kind of service to the nation. . . Sufi and Sunni Muslims who constitute the overwhelming majority of Muslims in India respect humanity and can never be traitor[s] to their nation.”

Soon afterward, the Kichowchhwi group appealed to Indian Muslims, “When an extremist turns up at your door seeking your support, when anyone tries to recruit you into terrorism, hand him over to the nearest police station.… Let us take a pledge that we will never support Wahhabi extremism—not today, not tomorrow. Let us take a pledge that we will work for the unity and integrity of our motherland.”

Last week, Kichowchhwi and an Indian Shia Muslim leader, Shaukat Abidi, announced an alliance between Sunni Sufis and Shias “to promote peace and harmony” and oppose radical Muslim ideology. Entitled the World Waseela Front (“waseela” means “cooperation”), the new coalition asked, in one of its first public actions, that the Indian government prohibit a flamboyant, hate-inciting Indian Islamist television preacher, Zakir Naik, from visiting Lucknow next month.

Naik, supported by LeT, is notorious for appealing to young Muslims to become terrorists, praising bin Laden and al Qaeda, and issuing repellent diatribes against Sufis, Shias, Jews, Christians, and others whom Islamist ideologues condemn. Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan-born, Denver-based al Qaeda trainee, “enchanted” by Naik and then encouraged by the video propaganda of the late Anwar Al-Awlaki, plotted suicide blasts in the New York subway system, which were averted. Zazi pled guilty in 2010 to the lesser offense of lying to federal investigators and received a four-year prison sentence.

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