Saudi King Abdullah is discovering that an independent imperial policy may not be all it is cracked up to be and simply laying out large sums of cash won't necessarily buy him the influence he seeks.
Since the Arab Revolt's eruption seven moths ago, the Saudis have sunk around two billion petrodollars in military and economic assistance for buying Pakistan's partnership in their plan for an international Sunni legion to withstand Shiite Iran and replace curtailed US assistance to Islamabad
Another half a billion was expended – half on wages for 20,000 Pakistani army personnel brought over to serve in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and the other half to support Pakistani families flown into Bahrain to fill out the Sunni minority against the 70 percent of Shiites populating the small island-kingdom.
The Saudi royal house attached high importance – and was willing to shell out many billions of dollars – to win Pakistan's guarantee of a nuclear and air umbrella and ground forces ready to come to the oil kingdom's aid in the event of external (Iranian) attack or internal threat from al Qaeda and the Shiite community.
But most of all, Abdullah viewed Pakistan as a valuable member of the Sunni bloc it is building to withstand Iran.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Middle East sources disclose that Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the king's national security adviser, who is in charge of liaison between the royal house and Islamabad, was repeatedly warned that Pakistan was untrustworthy and any deals with its government were apt to blow up in Saudi faces because of two factors:
Pakistan cozies up to Iran
First, Pakistan's political, religious, military and intelligence elites tend to be capricious and therefore unreliable about standing by their word, as the United States and its military and intelligence chiefs have discovered.
Second, although Pakistan and Saudi Arabia did set up a joint security vetting center to screen Pakistani personnel and families shipped out to Riyadh and Bahrain, there is no certainty that Islamist extremists have not mingled in with those groups to infiltrate Saudi Arabia, or that they were not planted by Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence agency for that purpose. After all, that is how the ISI operates in the Far East and the Persian Gulf, so why not in the two Arab kingdoms?
The royal house ignored this advice. But then, in the second week of July, they gasped when they saw Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari interpreting the commitment to turn away from Washington in an entirely unexpected way: He arrived in Tehran, not just to attend an "anti-terrorism summit" – sponsored improbably by Iran – but stood up and proposed a currency exchange accord to strengthen trade between Pakistan and Iran, joint economic projects in Afghanistan and the entire region.
The disillusion which set in has soured Saudi relations with Pakistan, which have deteriorated to a level similar to the ties prevailing between Washington and Islamabad.
Bahrain is beset by fresh surge of Shiite-led unrest
This untoward development has come at a particularly unfortunate time for Riyadh. The royal house was alerted by intelligence to a gathering of thousands of Bahraini anti-royal opponents Monday, July 27 and their decision to revive their angry protest against the throne – just as an international commission set up by the Bahraini king Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa was set to launch an inquiry into the first round of Shiite-led protests earlier this year and the government crackdown which left more than 30 dead.
The government in Manama denies there was any systematic abuse by the police and instead accuses the protesters of trying to overthrow the king in pursuit of a sectarian agenda backed by neighboring Iran. Bahrain has offered the commission access to official files and permission to question witnesses in secret.
According to reports reaching Riyadh, the Shiite protesters will be smarter this time round. They will avoid sectarian slogans and pose as an authentic grass-roots protest movement unrelated to Iran or Hizballah, which orchestrated their first outbreaks.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources report that the prospect of a fresh assault on the Bahrain throne took Saudi Arabia by surprise. Only last week, the two mechanized brigades posted there were recalled and replaced with fresh forces.
Now the Saudi brigades sent home to rest and the newly deployed force are both on the ready for fresh violence in Bahrain as the royal house in Riyadh takes a second look at its bid for friends and allies.