Western stance affects Asian attitude on Saudis - Letter to the FT

Originally Published in the FT, 17 January 2016

Sir, Victor Mallet is right to identify the tacit tolerance of Muslim extremism by governments in South Asia, and particularly Pakistan, as dangerous (Comment, January 14). He is also correct in identifying Saudi Arabia’s pernicious influence in promoting Islamism in Asia as manifested in its most intolerant strain, Wahhabism.

However, the crucial factor unaddressed in his piece is the status of Saudi Arabia in the west, through which we send mixed signals about our own tolerance for extremist Islam. Take the case of Saudi Arabia’s election to the UN Human Rights Council in 2014. I was told by the government in the Lords Chamber last week that it was elected uncontested on an Asian ticket to the UNHRC. It would seem curious that no Asian country felt able to contest the election for Asian leadership at the UN, and indeed that the west did not do more to prevent the election of that country — informed suggestions are that western countries supported the Saudi nomination.

Moreover, when Pakistan’s parliament unusually refused to join in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, its government came under significant pressure, including the threat of withdrawal of aid from Saudi Arabia.

That the Saudis are feted in Washington and London is noted in Asia and makes it all the more difficult for Asian Muslim governments to stand up to their bullying, most recently seen in Saudi pressure on them to line up against Iran.