Saudis Turn to Pakistan to Train Syrian Rebels
November 8, 2013 • 9:03AM

In another apparent break with the United States, Saudi Arabia has turned to its long-time ally Pakistan, to help it arm the Syrian rebels in their campaign to overthrow the Syrian government. Saudi collaboration with Pakistan to wage insurgency warfare in a third country is nothing new. In the 1980's, Saudi money flowed heavily into Pakistan to back the mujahideen fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Much of that money financed the madrassas that indoctrinated Arab fighters on their way to join the fighting. Of course, Afghanistan collapsed into chaos after the Red Army withdrew in 1989 and many of those Arab fighters later became Al Qaeda terrorists.

According to an article posted by Foreign Policy Nov. 6, the plan being debated in Riyadh is to give the Pakistanis responsibility for training a rebel force of 5,000 to 10,000 fighters, although their ambitions call for a much larger force of 40,000 to 50,000 troops. "The only way Assad will think about giving up power is if he's faced with the threat of a credible, armed force," a Saudi insider told FP. According to Yezid Sayigh, a senior associate with Carnegie's Middle East Center in an Oct. 28 article, the larger plan appears to have been discussed, at least in general terms, when the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the UAE met with French President Francois Hollande on Sept. 13.

The Pakistani involvement, however, is thought to be small, and the Pakistanis have their own problems to worry about.

"Sources with good access to the Pakistani Ministry of Defense and military intelligence services confirm that the armed forces were already reluctant or unable to meet a previous Saudi request to provide special forces training to the Syrian rebels," writes Sayigh. "They regard the scale of the new Saudi proposal as unmanageable." In any case, Sayigh warns that the Saudi effort will only make things worse, by further polarizing the rebels. The Saudis, it seems, are no more likely to succeed in unifying the disparate rebel groups, many of which are more interested in fighting each other than they are the regime in Damascus, than are the U.S., France, or anyone else.