Wednesday, November 28, 2007

US unsure about new Sharif in town

Times of India, 28 Nov 2007,

Chidanand Rajghatta

WASHINGTON: From Pakistan's man-on-the-street to stratospheric analysts at international think-tanks, it has long been said the perpetually embattled country is governed by three As - Army, Allah, and America.

But on a long Thanksgiving weekend during which the United States feasted itself to distraction, another A quietly took centerstage ahead of the troika of Pakistan's patrons.

Saudi Arabia has always been Pakistan's great benefactor, as much as long-time ally China and the vice-regal United States. But where Beijing and Washington have given Pakistan arms, nuclear weapons, and assorted goods, Saudis have provided Islamabad with ideological and religious underpinning, not to speak of loads of money and plenty of free oil.

Over the weekend, Saudi Arabia moved to protect its investment in Pakistan, taking over a key role in the country's transformational politics and edging out its own patron, the United States. By forcing the return of exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan, the Saudi monarchy seemingly cocked a snook at Washington, which is backing Sharif's arch-rival Benazir Bhutto and engineering her political marriage with military ruler Pervez Musharraf.

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