Saudis Turn Birthplace of Wahhabism Ideology Into Tourist Spot


Visitors at the Diriyah complex, on the outskirts of Riyadh, the Saudi capital. The site will feature parks, restaurants, and a series of museums. CreditTomas Munita for The New York Times

In return for political supremacy, the House of Saud endorsed the doctrine of Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab and followed it to wage jihad against anyone who rejected their creed, gaining control of much of the Arabian Peninsula.

That alliance laid the foundations of the modern Saudi state, which has in more recent times used its oil wealth to make the cleric’s rigid doctrine — widely known as Wahhabism — a major force in the Muslim world.

And now, this site, the birthplace of it all, is becoming a tourist attraction.

Inside a massive complex on the outskirts of Riyadh filled with parks, restaurants and coffee shops, hundreds of laborers are rehabilitating mud palaces once home to the Saud family and building museums celebrating its history. Nearby stands a sleek structure that will house a foundation dedicated to the sheikh and his mission.

Continue reading the main story

The project comes at a tough time for Saudi Arabia. Popular revolts and civil wars have shaken the regional order; the drop inOIL PRICES has hit the national budget; and the kingdom is once again being accused by many of promoting an intolerant brand of Islam similar to that of the Islamic State.

But the kingdom is doubling down on its origins. The development of Diriyah is a pet project of the new king, Salman, who is seeking to create a showcase attraction to reinforce the royal family’s national narrative. The entire complex is expected to open in two years at a total cost of about a half-billion dollars, according to a contractor who declined to be named because the sum has not been made public.

Saudi officials hope the project will link citizens to their past and rehabilitate the reputation of Sheikh Abdul-Wahhab, which they say has been wrongly sullied.

While Wahhabism has adherents around the world, many Muslims detest it, because it considers Shiites and followers of other non-Sunni sects — not to mention Christians and Jews — to be infidels. Others blame Saudi Arabia’s promotion of Wahhabism abroad for giving theological fuel to groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, an accusation Saudi officials reject.

“It is important for Saudis who are living now, in this century, to know that the state came from a specific place that has been preserved and that it was built on an idea, a true, correct and tolerant ideology that respected others,” said Abdullah Arrakban of the High Commission for the Development of Riyadh that oversees the project.

The planned Abdul-Wahhab foundation is to be an international study center, showing the importance Saudi Arabia still puts on spreading the sheikh’s teachings.

However, many scholars say that the cleric was not known for his tolerance.

“If someone else did not agree with his conception of monotheism, they had to either convert or be conquered,” said David Commins, a history professor at Dickinson College who has written a book on Wahhabism.

“When you throw a theological reform movement into the mix, you create an ideological foundation for people here and there to support the Saudi banner rather than another chieftain,” Dr. Commins said.


Laborers at the site, which will have a foundation honoring Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab, an 18th century cleric whose support and ideology was crucial to the House of Saud.CreditTomas Munita for The New York Times

Some found the ideology appealing and accepted Saudi leadership. Others resisted and were deemed “polytheists” who had strayed from monotheism, perverting the one true faith, and needed to be corrected.

These included other Sunni Muslims who practiced different versions of the faith as well as Shiites, thousands of whom were slaughtered when Saudi forces sacked Karbala, in modern-day Iraq, in the early years of the 19th century, Dr. Commins said.

After the House of Saud extended its control over the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, the Ottomans struck back, toppling the first Saudi state and destroying its capital in Diriyah. Surviving members of the family moved to Riyadh, where King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, Salman’s father, founded the modern Saudi state in 1932. He also re-established the alliance with Sheikh Abdul-Wahhab’s descendants, which endures to this day.

Many Saudis reject the term Wahhabism, saying the sheikh did not create a new ideology, but restored the original teachings of Islam by stripping away additions like the veneration of saints.

Nothing should be celebrated except God, he taught, leading his followers to destroy saints’ tombs and reject national holidays and birthdays.

Some critics say the interest in Diriyah by the kingdom’s rulers is more about politics than about historical preservation, noting that the government has neglected or destroyed many other heritage sites.

Ottoman buildings have been scrapped or left to collapse, and researchers struggle to get permits to visit relics of historic Christian settlements.

The Wahhabi fear that any relic could itself become an object of worship has led to the destruction of more than 95 percent of the historic sites near the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, according to Irfan al-Alawi, the director of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation.

Scores of tombs have been destroyed; a house associated with Muhammad’s first wife, Khadija, was replaced with a bank of public toilets; and a home believed to have belonged to his companion Abu Bakr was razed to make way for aHILTON HOTEL, Mr. Alawi said.

At the same time, the Saudi government has filled Mecca with increasingly modern buildings that include the world’s third tallest building and, soon, its largest hotel.


An old house under restoration in Diriyah.CreditTomas Munita for The New York Times

Madawi al-Rasheed, a visiting professor at the London School of Economics who has written books on Saudi history, said the royal family tries to bolster its legitimacy by creating “historical amnesia” about aspects of the kingdom’s past that do not relate to its rule.

“Diriyah is extremely important in this because for the Saud, it all started there and they want to say that the Arabian Peninsula had no history before them,” Dr. Rasheed said.

The king remains among the development’s champions and has built a palace next door where he spends his weekends. Visitors to the site can see his convoy enter on Friday and return to Riyadh on Saturday.

The complex will feature parks, restaurants, underground parking and a series of museums about traditional Saudi life, warfare and the Arabian horse. Visitors will also be able to stroll through the old mud settlement, Turaif, which was named a Unesco World Heritage site in 2010; shop in a traditional market; and sleep in boutique a hotel.

On a recent evening, footpaths snaking between restaurants and coffee shops filled with children playing and riding bicycles, while families picnicked under date palms.

“It is nice to have something like this in Riyadh because it looks like a desert,” said Saleh al-Mohaya, who was strolling with his wife.

Others came for the history.

“France is based on the revolution, America is based on the founding fathers and Saudi Arabia is based on the mission of Sheikh Abdul-Wahhab,” said Turki al-Shathri, scion of a prominent clerical family who said he visits often.

He dismissed any suggestion that Sheikh Abdul-Wahhab was intolerant or had anything in common with the Islamic State.

Wahhabi theology does not promote the caliphate, he said, and preaches obedience to rulers, not jihad to overthrow them.

“Look around,” he said, gesturing at Saudi families strolling and eating ice cream. “Where is the extremism and the terrorism?”

Saudi Arabia is no friend to the United States

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on May 5. (Fayez Nureldine/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

By Colbert I. King May 29 at 9:05 PM
In my Post colleague Charles Krauthammer’s May 21 op-ed column, “You want hypotheticals? Here’s one,” former Saudi Arabian intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal was quoted approvingly as complaining: “We were America’s best friend in the Arab world for 50 years.” Note the past tense.

If my arithmetic is correct, that would date the beginning of Turki’s cherished Saudi-U.S. relationship to 1965. But “best friend”?

As Oscar Wilde is credited with saying, “True friends stab you in the front.”

America’s back was turned in 1973 when Saudi Arabian-led oil producers imposed an embargo against the United States in retaliation for U.S. military support of Israel in that country’s 1973 war with Egypt and Syria.

America’s “best friend” instigated a doubling, then a quadrupling, of the PRICE OF OIL. Our good buddies in the Middle East watched as long lines formed at U.S. filling stations and consumer costs skyrocketed. The Saudi monarchy showed no regret as the pain it inflicted on the U.S. economy set in.

That’s because the Saudis, in their piety, sought to teach their American “best friend” a lesson: namely, that they could yank our chain whenever they wanted.

The Nixon White House got the message. It started negotiations with the Saudi-controlled oil producers to end the embargo and began putting pressure on Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights and the Sinai.

Manipulation of OIL PRICES has been a handy Saudi weapon.

George W. Bush knows.

With oil at more than $127 a barrel in May 2008, then-President Bush appealed to Saudi Arabia to increase production and bring down the price. The Saudis said no. That was the second time. The Saudis had rebuffed Bush that January when he made the same request.

And what, pray tell, has America’s “best friend” done over the past four decades as all of that petrodollar loot, once estimated at $116 billion a year, poured in, as noted by a PBS “Frontline” report? Besides spending like mad on airports, hotels, highways, hospitals and schools — much-needed domestic projects and infrastructure — Saudi billions also found their way to other channels, such as religious charities that funded networks of madrassas: religious schools steeped in the conservative anti-Western Wahhabi strain of Islam that laid the groundwork for the creation of al-Qaeda. All those billions did little to erase the repression of Saudi women or end inflammatory teachings about Christians and Jews.

Where did the cash and arms that helped create the Taliban come from? Yep, you guessed it, the kingdom.

In fact, after the Taliban took over the Afghan capital of Kabul in September 1996, Saudi Arabia was among the three countries to establish diplomatic relations. That relationship ended on the rocks in September 2001, however, when the Saudis concluded, the kingdom said, that the Taliban was up to no good, attracting and training Muslims, including Saudi citizens, “to carry out criminal acts” against Islamic law.

Throughout Prince Turki’s fabled 50 years of best friendship, the Saudis, when piqued, have never hesitated to publicly snub U.S. presidents. King Salman’s last-minute decision to pull out of this month’s Arab summit with President Obama at Camp David is only the latest such no-show.

In 2001, then-Crown Prince Abdullah, then the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia and a backer of the Palestinian intifada, didn’t think the United States was doing enough to oppose Israeli action in the Palestinian territories. So when he was invited to visit the White House to meet with newly elected Bush in May 2001, Abdullah chose to stay at home, haughtily announcing, “We want [the United States] to consider their own conscience.”

A few months later, Abdullah fired off a letter angrily warning Bush that “A time comes when peoples and nations part. We are at a crossroads. It is time for the United States and Saudi Arabia to look at their separate interests.” Remember that, Prince Turki?

Today, the Saudis are in a tight spot, but it’s not because of the United States. The roiling Islamic struggle, pitting the Sunni Saudi and Persian Gulf states against their Shiite rivals in Iran, is of the Islamic world’s own doing. The United States can’t save them from themselves.

Still, some good has come out of the Saudi oil blackmail. It woke us up to the vulnerability caused by dependence on foreign oil. The oil shocks forced a succession of U.S. presidents, beginning with Richard Nixon, to initiate efforts to raise fuel-economy standards, increase conservation measures and double down on other power sources.
Now, shale production has propelled the United States way up the ladder as an oil producer, making us far less dependent on the kingdom than we were when we got blindsided in ’73.

And the response from our “best friend”?

The Saudis have been pumping up oil production to cause prices to fall, preserve their market share and thus undermine U.S. shale oil development.

What a friend we have in Saudi Arabia

Pentagon report predicted West’s support for Islamist rebels would create ISIS

Anti-ISIS coalition knowingly sponsored violent extremists to ‘isolate’ Assad, rollback ‘Shia expansion’

by Nafeez Ahmed

This story is published by INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, a new crowd-funded investigative journalism project.

Support us to break the stories that no one else will — become a patron ofindependent, investigative journalism for the global commons.

A declassified secret US government document obtained by the conservative public interest law firm, Judicial Watch, shows that Western governments deliberately allied with al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups to topple Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad.

The document reveals that in coordination with the Gulf states and Turkey, the West intentionally sponsored violent Islamist groups to destabilize Assad, and that these “supporting powers” desired the emergence of a “Salafist Principality” in Syria to “isolate the Syrian regime.”

According to the newly declassified US document, the Pentagon foresaw the likely rise of the ‘Islamic State’ as a direct consequence of this strategy, and warned that it could destabilize Iraq. Despite anticipating that Western, Gulf state and Turkish support for the “Syrian opposition” — which included al-Qaeda in Iraq — could lead to the emergence of an ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the document provides no indication of any decision to reverse the policy of support to the Syrian rebels. On the contrary, the emergence of an al-Qaeda affiliated “Salafist Principality” as a result is described as a strategic opportunity to isolate Assad.


The revelations contradict the official line of Western governments on their policies in Syria, and raise disturbing questions about secret Western support for violent extremists abroad, while using the burgeoning threat of terror to justify excessive mass surveillance and crackdowns on civil liberties at home.

Among the batch of documents obtained by Judicial Watch through a federal lawsuit, released earlier this week, is a US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document then classified as “secret,” dated 12th August 2012.

The DIA provides military intelligence in support of planners, policymakers and operations for the US Department of Defense and intelligence community.

So far, media reporting has focused on the evidence that the Obama administration knew of arms supplies from a Libyan terrorist stronghold to rebels in Syria.

Some outlets have reported the US intelligence community’s internal prediction of the rise of ISIS. Yet none have accurately acknowledged the disturbing details exposing how the West knowingly fostered a sectarian, al-Qaeda-driven rebellion in Syria.

Charles Shoebridge, a former British Army and Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism intelligence officer, said:

“Given the political leanings of the organisation that obtained these documents, it’s unsurprising that the main emphasis given to them thus far has been an attempt to embarrass Hilary Clinton regarding what was known about the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012. However, the documents also contain far less publicized revelations that raise vitally important questions of the West’s governments and media in their support of Syria’s rebellion.”

The West’s Islamists

The newly declassified DIA document from 2012 confirms that the main component of the anti-Assad rebel forces by this time comprised Islamist insurgents affiliated to groups that would lead to the emergence of ISIS. Despite this, these groups were to continue receiving support from Western militaries and their regional allies.

Noting that “the Salafist [sic], the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” the document states that “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the opposition,” while Russia, China and Iran “support the [Assad] regime.”

The 7-page DIA document states that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the precursor to the ‘Islamic State in Iraq,’ (ISI) which became the ‘Islamic State in Iraq and Syria,’ “supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning, both ideologically and through the media.”

The formerly secret Pentagon report notes that the “rise of the insurgency in Syria” has increasingly taken a “sectarian direction,” attracting diverse support from Sunni “religious and tribal powers” across the region.

In a section titled ‘The Future Assumptions of the Crisis,’ the DIA report predicts that while Assad’s regime will survive, retaining control over Syrian territory, the crisis will continue to escalate “into proxy war.”

The document also recommends the creation of “safe havens under international sheltering, similar to what transpired in Libya when Benghazi was chosen as the command centre for the temporary government.”

In Libya, anti-Gaddafi rebels, most of whom were al-Qaeda affiliated militias, were protected by NATO ‘safe havens’ (aka ‘no fly zones’).

‘Supporting powers want’ ISIS entity

In a strikingly prescient prediction, the Pentagon document explicitly forecasts the probable declaration of “an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria.”

Nevertheless, “Western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey are supporting these efforts” by Syrian “opposition forces” fighting to “control the eastern areas (Hasaka and Der Zor), adjacent to Western Iraqi provinces (Mosul and Anbar)”:

“… there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”

The secret Pentagon document thus provides extraordinary confirmation that the US-led coalition currently fighting ISIS, had three years ago welcomed the emergence of an extremist “Salafist Principality” in the region as a way to undermine Assad, and block off the strategic expansion of Iran. Crucially, Iraq is labeled as an integral part of this “Shia expansion.”

The establishment of such a “Salafist Principality” in eastern Syria, the DIA document asserts, is “exactly” what the “supporting powers to the [Syrian] opposition want.” Earlier on, the document repeatedly describes those “supporting powers” as “the West, Gulf countries, and Turkey.”

Further on, the document reveals that Pentagon analysts were acutely aware of the dire risks of this strategy, yet ploughed ahead anyway.

The establishment of such a “Salafist Principality” in eastern Syria, it says, would create “the ideal atmosphere for AQI to return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi.” Last summer, ISIS conquered Mosul in Iraq, and just this month has also taken control of Ramadi.

Such a quasi-state entity will provide:

“… a renewed momentum under the presumption of unifying the jihad among Sunni Iraq and Syria, and the rest of the Sunnis in the Arab world against what it considers one enemy. ISI could also declare an Islamic State through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria, which will create grave danger in regards to unifying Iraq and the protection of territory.”

The 2012 DIA document is an Intelligence Information Report (IIR), not a “finally evaluated intelligence” assessment, but its contents are vetted before distribution. The report was circulated throughout the US intelligence community, including to the State Department, Central Command, the Department of Homeland Security, the CIA, FBI, among other agencies.

In response to my questions about the strategy, the British government simply denied the Pentagon report’s startling revelations of deliberate Western sponsorship of violent extremists in Syria. A British Foreign Office spokesperson said:

“AQ and ISIL are proscribed terrorist organisations. The UK opposes all forms of terrorism. AQ, ISIL, and their affiliates pose a direct threat to the UK’s national security. We are part of a military and political coalition to defeat ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and are working with international partners to counter the threat from AQ and other terrorist groups in that region. In Syria we have always supported those moderate opposition groups who oppose the tyranny of Assad and the brutality of the extremists.”

The DIA did not respond to request for comment.

Strategic asset for regime-change

Security analyst Shoebridge, however, who has tracked Western support for Islamist terrorists in Syria since the beginning of the war, pointed out that the secret Pentagon intelligence report exposes fatal contradictions at the heart of official pronunciations:

“Throughout the early years of the Syria crisis, the US and UK governments, and almost universally the West’s mainstream media, promoted Syria’s rebels as moderate, liberal, secular, democratic, and therefore deserving of the West’s support. Given that these documents wholly undermine this assessment, it’s significant that the West’s media has now, despite their immense significance, almost entirely ignored them.”

According to Brad Hoff, a former US Marine who served during the early years of the Iraq War and as a 9/11 first responder at the Marine Corps Headquarters Battalion in Quantico from 2000 to 2004, the just released Pentagon report for the first time provides stunning affirmation that:

“US intelligence predicted the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), but instead of clearly delineating the group as an enemy, the report envisions the terror group as a US strategic asset.”

Hoff, who is managing editor of Levant Report— an online publication run by Texas-based educators who have direct experience of the Middle East — points out that the DIA document “matter-of-factly” states that the rise of such an extremist Salafist political entity in the region offers a “tool for regime change in Syria.”

The DIA intelligence report shows, he said, that the rise of ISIS only became possible in the context of the Syrian insurgency — “there is no mention of US troop withdrawal from Iraq as a catalyst for Islamic State’s rise, which is the contention of innumerable politicians and pundits.” The report demonstrates that:

“The establishment of a ‘Salafist Principality’ in Eastern Syria is ‘exactly’ what the external powers supporting the opposition want (identified as ‘the West, Gulf Countries, and Turkey’) in order to weaken the Assad government.”

The rise of a Salafist quasi-state entity that might expand into Iraq, and fracture that country, was therefore clearly foreseen by US intelligence as likely — but nevertheless strategically useful — blowback from the West’s commitment to “isolating Syria.”


Critics of the US-led strategy in the region have repeatedly raised questions about the role of coalition allies in intentionally providing extensive support to Islamist terrorist groups in the drive to destabilize the Assad regime in Syria.

The conventional wisdom is that the US government did not retain sufficient oversight on the funding to anti-Assad rebel groups, which was supposed to be monitored and vetted to ensure that only ‘moderate’ groups were supported.

However, the newly declassified Pentagon report proves unambiguously that years before ISIS launched its concerted offensive against Iraq, the US intelligence community was fully aware that Islamist militants constituted the core of Syria’s sectarian insurgency.

Despite that, the Pentagon continued to support the Islamist insurgency, even while anticipating the probability that doing so would establish an extremist Salafi stronghold in Syria and Iraq.

As Shoebridge told me, “The documents show that not only did the US government at the latest by August 2012 know the true extremist nature and likely outcome of Syria’s rebellion” — namely, the emergence of ISIS — “but that this was considered an advantage for US foreign policy. This also suggests a decision to spend years in an effort to deliberately mislead the West’s public, via a compliant media, into believing that Syria’s rebellion was overwhelmingly ‘moderate.’”

Annie Machon, a former MI5 intelligence officer who blew the whistle in the 1990s on MI6 funding of al-Qaeda to assassinate Libya’s former leader Colonel Gaddafi, similarly said of the revelations:

“This is no surprise to me. Within individual countries there are always multiple intelligence agencies with competing agendas.”

She explained that MI6’s Libya operation in 1996, which resulted in the deaths of innocent people, “happened at precisely the time when MI5 was setting up a new section to investigate al-Qaeda.”

This strategy was repeated on a grand scale in the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya, said Machon, where the CIA and MI6 were:

“… supporting the very same Libyan groups, resulting in a failed state, mass murder, displacement and anarchy. So the idea that elements of the American military-security complex have enabled the development of ISIS after their failed attempt to get NATO to once again ‘intervene’ is part of an established pattern. And they remain indifferent to the sheer scale of human suffering that is unleashed as a result of such game-playing.”

Divide and rule

Several US government officials have conceded that their closest allies in the anti-ISIS coalition were funding violent extremist Islamist groups that became integral to ISIS.

US Vice President Joe Biden, for instance, admitted last year that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Turkey had funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to Islamist rebels in Syria that metamorphosed into ISIS.

But he did not admit what this internal Pentagon document demonstrates — that the entire covert strategy was sanctioned and supervised by the US, Britain, France, Israel and other Western powers.

The strategy appears to fit a policy scenario identified by a recent US Army-commissioned RAND Corp report.

The report, published four years before the DIA document, called for the US “to capitalise on the Shia-Sunni conflict by taking the side of the conservative Sunni regimes in a decisive fashion and working with them against all Shiite empowerment movements in the Muslim world.”

The US would need to contain “Iranian power and influence” in the Gulf by “shoring up the traditional Sunni regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan.” Simultaneously, the US must maintain “a strong strategic relationship with the Iraqi Shiite government” despite its Iran alliance.

The RAND report confirmed that the “divide and rule” strategy was already being deployed “to create divisions in the jihadist camp. Today in Iraq such a strategy is being used at the tactical level.”

The report observed that the US was forming “temporary alliances” with al-Qaeda affiliated “nationalist insurgent groups” that have fought the US for four years in the form of “weapons and cash.” Although these nationalists “have cooperated with al-Qaeda against US forces,” they are now being supported to exploit “the common threat that al-Qaeda now poses to both parties.”

The 2012 DIA document, however, further shows that while sponsoring purportedly former al-Qaeda insurgents in Iraq to counter al-Qaeda, Western governments were simultaneously arming al-Qaeda insurgents in Syria.

The revelation from an internal US intelligence document that the very US-led coalition supposedly fighting ‘Islamic State’ today, knowingly created ISIS in the first place, raises troubling questions about recent government efforts to justify the expansion of state anti-terror powers.

In the wake of the rise of ISIS, intrusive new measures to combat extremism including mass surveillance, the Orwellian ‘prevent duty’ and even plans to enable government censorship of broadcasters, are being pursued on both sides of the Atlantic, much of which disproportionately targets activists, journalists and ethnic minorities, especially Muslims.

Yet the new Pentagon report reveals that, contrary to Western government claims, the primary cause of the threat comes from their own deeply misguided policies of secretly sponsoring Islamist terrorism for dubious geopolitical purposes.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is an investigative journalist, bestselling author and international security scholar. A former Guardian writer, he writes the ‘System Shift’ column for VICE’s Motherboard, and is also a columnist for Middle East Eye. He is the winner of a 2015 Project Censored Award, known as the ‘Alternative Pulitzer Prize’, for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian work, and was selected in the Evening Standard’s ‘Power 1,000’ most globally influential Londoners.

Nafeez has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, New Internationalist, Counterpunch, Truthout, among others. He is the author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (2010), and the scifi thriller novel ZERO POINT, among other books. His work on the root causes and covert operations linked to international terrorism officially contributed to the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest.

This exclusive is being released for free in the public interest, and was enabled by crowdfunding. I’d like to thank my amazing community of patrons for their support, which gave me the opportunity to work on this in-depth investigation. If you appreciated this story, please support independent, investigative journalism for the global commons via, where you can donate as much or as little as you like. Source

وادی داریل کا ایک آزاد الیکشن سروے

BY:Samar KhanSamar Khan

گلگت بلتستان کے دیگر اضلاع کی طرح ضلع دیامیر میں بھی الیکشن مہم زوروں پر ھے… میں اپنی وادی داریل کا ایک آزاد سروے کرنا چاہتا ھوں… وادی سے تعلق رکھنے والے لوگ اختلاف راۓ کا حق رکھتے ہیں کیونکہ میری بات پتھر کی لکیر نہیں ھے…

چار بڑی قومی پارٹیوں کے ٹکٹ ھولڈر اس وقت میدان میں ہیں… JUI,PTI,PMLN,PPP نے اس بار اپنے امیدوار کھڑے کیے ہیں… PPP کو چھوڑ کر باقی تین پارٹیوں کے بیچ اس وقت کانٹے کی ٹکر جاری ھے…. ایسی بات نہیں کہ پی پی پی کا کنڈیڈیٹ زور نہیں لگارہا مگر اس کی جھولی میں امسال اتنے زیادہ ووٹ پڑتے نہیں دکھتے کہ اسے بھی مقابلے کی صف میں لا کھڑا کیا جاسکے… اپنی طرف سے ایڑی چوٹی کا زور لگا رہا ھے، لیکن اس کی دوڑ فی الحال منیکال یونین تک ہی محدود ھے….صرف منیکال یونین سے اس کی جھولی بھرنے والی نہیں ھے… آگے پیچھے بھی ہاتھ پاؤں مارنے ھونگے اگر مقابلے میں بنا رہنا چاہتا ھے تو…..

اس کے علاوہ باقی تین پارٹیوں کا اثر رسوخ پوری وادی میں پھیلا ھوا ھے… یہ الگ بات کہ وادی میں ووٹ پارٹی بنیاد پر کم، شخصی بنیاد پر زیادہ پڑتا ھے…. بہت سارے لوگ ایسے ہیں جو وفاق میں کسی اور پارٹی کی حکومت چاہتے ہیں مگر ادھر ووٹ کسی اور پارٹی کے کھاتے میں ڈال دیتے ہیں… مطلب صاف ظاہر ھے شخصیت پہلے پارٹی بعد میں..

ان تین پارٹی کے امیدوار اپنی اپنی بھرپور کوششوں میں مگن ہیں… ان دنوں ڈھنگ سے کھانے کی فرصت ھے نہ سونے کی… سر کھجانے کی فرصت نہیں تو کھانا سونا کیسے نصیب ھوگا….. جوں جوں 8 جون کا فاصلہ گھٹتا جارہا ھے پروپیگنڈا بڑھتا جارہا ھے… کارکن جھوٹ کا دریا کب کا بہا چکے اب سمندر بہا رھے ہیں… آٹھ جون آتے آتے بہت سے لوگ اپنا ایمان گنوا چکے ھونگے….

ہر پارٹی خود کو فاتح سمجھ رہی ھے… مگر ایسا نہیں ھے. جیت تو خیر ایک پارٹی کی ھو گی ہی… مگر جس آسانی سے دن کی روشنی میں راہ چلتے ھوۓ کارکن جو سپنے دیکھتے ہیں وہ غلط ھیں…..

میری آزاد راۓ کے مطابق اب تک کوئ بھی پارٹی بھاری سبقت نہیں دیکھا پائ… گراف اوپر نیچے ھو کر واپس برابری کی سطح پر آکر جم جاتا ھے…. ماضی اور حال کی سیاست میں ایک واضح فرق دیکھائ دے رہا ھے…. پہلے خاندان کا خاندان ایک امیدوار کا ساتھ دیتا تھا، اب خاندان رہا ایک طرف، گھر گھر میں تضاد ھے… باپ ایک طرف، بیٹا ایک طرف، بھائ بھائ کا ووٹ الگ الگ….. ایک گھر، چار پارٹیاں، چار ووٹ….. ایسے میں اندازہ لگا پانا مشکل ھے….. جمہوریت شاید دھیرے دھیرے اپنا جلوہ دیکھا رہی ھے… یہی تو جمہوریت کا حسن ھے……

خیر جو بھی ھے بس آٹھ جون بخیریت گزر جاۓ، ہار جیت تو کھیل کا حصہ ھے….جو جیتے اس کا فرض بنتا ھے ذات پات، اپنے پرایے کے خول سے باہر نکل کر وادی کی تعمیر و ترقی کو اپنا نصب العین بناۓ اور جو ہاریں وہ بھی اپنا اپنا کردار ادا کریں…..

گرتے ہیں شہسوار ہی میدان جنگ میں

وہ طفل کیا گرے گا جو گھٹنوں کے بل چلے..

تین ہار جائیں گے ایک کی جیت ھوگی… اب کون مقدر کا سکندر اور اقتدار کے سنگھاسن پر متمکن ھوگا، فردا کے پردے میں چھپا ھے… میری نیک تمنائیں آپ چار حاجیوں کے ساتھ ہیں… لگے رھو میدان صاف ھے، قسمت کا فیصلہ عوام کریگی…


Yemen: A Battle for Energy Supremacy

The never-ending turbulence in the Middle East has reached an all new dangerous level. While yet another country has fallen victim to a civil-war-turned-cold war, another has almost kneeled in front of the Western powers. Yemen has become the latest addition to the great game, which is likely to give more power to the US that it could have imagined. Even as Iran, one of the last countries in the Middle East to have stood up against the United States, is in talks about a nuclear-based alliance with them, its actions in Yemen point a suspicious finger at its intentions. Iran and the US are entangling themselves into what seems like a proxy-war in Yemen, the motive behind which, I argue, is energy supremacy.

The US has recently become the world’s largest oil producer, owning nearly 46% of the global oil reserves, directly or indirectly in the Middle East. Proponents of the Hubbert’s peak oil theory[1] may argue that the age of oil is limited. But, if there is one country in the future, given the present circumstances, to have enough supplies of oil to feed its industries and keep its cars running, it is the United States. What started as a ‘war on terror’ has strategically become ‘energy-colonialism’. What began with one country has now engulfed a complete region, with no end in sight.

Perhaps, the Taliban in Afghanistan deserved to be stopped. Perhaps, Saddam’s purported WMD program in Iraq deserved to be stopped. Arguably the interventions in Syria, Egypt, and Libya too were perhaps necessary. Regardless of the justifications that were cited, all of these would serve as case studies of this form of ‘energy-colonialism’ in libraries all around the world.

But Yemen’s situation takes a curious diversion from Washington’s modus operandi. While the US was directly present in all of the above mentioned escapades, Yemen has not been as lucky. In a clever manoeuvre, the Saudi forces lead the intervention against Yemen to restore Hadi’s status as President. This would accomplish two important things.

Firstly, ever since the Saudi King died, speculations about a weakened throne were rife. With monarchies feeling feeble around the oil-rich country, a show of strength and an act of dominance was necessary to deter not just external but internal defectors as well. Case in point is the recent armedShiite uprising in the Al-Qatif region by rebels associated with Iran. While Saudi Arabia is the undisputed leader of oil production in the region, has the power to influence OPEC’s decisions, oil prices, and monitors rogue members, the fear of the ‘Arab Spring’ has loomed large over the Saudi palace. A military intervention would silence the rebels in Saudi Arabia against the Kingdom and create a sense of dominance in the region’s political circles.

Secondly, the US has acquired an image of being the big brother with a stick in the region. Washington stepped back this time, though, because of changing political landscapes, shifts in allegiances, and the increasing public opinion against its war-mongering ways. But Yemen’s importance for the US is enhanced by its location, being a gateway into Africa for the US forces. Keeping ‘control’ of Yemen, the US will be able to check the insurgency in the pirate-infested waters of Somalia. Also, it will give it a vantage point against Al-Shabab, the terrorist organization that has been on the US radar since 2008.

Yemen’s importance for the US is further enhanced by its strategic location on the world’s fourth most important oil route, Bab-Al-Mandeb. This is a chokepoint between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, from where Europe, Asia, and the US received 3.8 million barrels of crude oil per day in 2013. The rebelling Houthis have recently captured a military base near the bottleneck, sparking fears of a possible choking of the passage which also leads tankers from the Persian Gulf into the Suez Canal or the Suez-Mediterranean pipeline. Iranian naval ships have also reached the strait, to counter the Saudi-Egyptian coalition fighting the Houthi rebels. The US-allied forces led by Saudi Arabia will have to offset the Iranian influence in Bab-Al-Mandeb to gain control of the passageway which will give it direct or indirect command over almost 70% of the world’s maritime oil trade. Two of the three largest oil trade routes: Strait of Malacca and Suez Canal are already under control of the US allies, while the Strait of Hormuz continues to elude the United States. With Bab-Al-Mandeb, the United States will gain unprecedented power over the energy-hungry world by achieving control of majority of the global maritime oil trade.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have turned Yemen into a political arena, which has become part of the great game, with the seat ultimately going to either the US-Saudi coalition or Iran, thus shifting the balance of power in the region significantly. Even though Iran claims that it has not so far intervened, and will not intervene militarily in Yemen, behind the scenes arms exchange has been strengthening the Houthi rebels to take on the Saudi forces.

Being in Saudi Arabia’s backyard, Yemen’s strategic significance cannot be emphasised enough. Any instability due to an Iran-backed government would jeopardise Saudi national security. For Iran, Yemen is the hostage that will help them negotiate geopolitical terms with Saudi Arabia, and in turn with the United States. However, with Iran being gradually reeled in by the US with the lure of a nuclear deal that will help lift sanctions, its position against the Saudis in Yemen might go against it. The United States might use the sanctions card to coerce Iran to leave Yemen alone, thereby practically serving it to the Saudis on a silver platter.

For now, Yemen is the amphitheatre where the gladiators will fight each other for the coveted prize of significant amount of resources, clout, and strengthened political will. Regardless of whether the Iran-backed government is placed at the centre or the Saudi/US-backed President Hadi resumes power, the puppet show will continue no matter who stands in the audience.


[1] Hubbert’s peak oil theory suggests that conventional oil production in the US had peaked at around 1970, and has been declining since. Extending this theory for global oil, it suggests that the global conventional oil production would be peaking around this time, only making it scarce and increasingly expensive from here.


Pakistan raids ‘fake degree factory’

The New York Times accuses a Pakistani firm of making millions by selling fake degrees

Pakistani investigators Tuesday carried out raids on a firm accused of running a global fake degree empire, officials said, confiscating computers and holding employees for questioning as the scandal deepened.

The firm Axact was accused by the New York Times of running a network of hundreds of websites for phoney universities complete with paid actors for promotional videos, as part of an elaborate scheme that generated tens of millions of dollars annually.

Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) officers swooped on the Karachi headquarters of the company, seizing equipment and records and expelling employees from the building, a member of the raiding party told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile the company’s Rawalpindi office has been sealed and employees were being questioned at the site, an official said.

The same official had earlier said that two employees had been arrested, but later clarified they were being quizzed and had not been charged with a crime.

“The raid is still ongoing,” Mehmood ul Hassan, acting director of the FIA’s Cyber Crime Wing, told AFP.

“Our team is gathering evidence. Our director general will release all details about the raid once it’s completed.”

The move came shortly after Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told the agency to probe “if the said company is involved in any such illegal work which can tarnish the good image of the country in the world”.

The report by the New York Times, which quoted former employees and analysed more than 370 websites of fake universities, accreditation bodies and other purported institutions, sparked a wave of criticism on social media even as the company denied wrongdoing.

Axact’s media venture named Bol is set to launch a news channel, featuring leading TV anchors and journalists lured from previous employers by high salaries, heightening interest in the story.

The NYT article cited clients from the US, Britain and the United Arab Emirates who had paid sums ranging from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars for their degrees — with some believing the universities were real and they would soon receive coursework.

The “university” websites mainly route their traffic through servers run by companies registered in Cyprus and Latvia, and employees would plant fictitious reports about Axact universities on CNN iReport, a website for citizen journalism.

Axact and its CEO, Shoaib Ahmad Shaikh, did not respond to requests from AFP for comment on Monday or Tuesday.

But a message on its website declared the story “baseless, substandard, maligning, defamatory, and based on false accusations” and added it would sue the New York Times.

The message did not directly address the allegations but accused domestic media rivals of colluding with the US newspaper to plant a slanderous story in order to harm its business interests.

According to an FIA official who did not wish to be named, the allegations raised by the newspaper would be a crime under Pakistan’s Electronic Transaction Ordinance, punishable by seven years in prison. Source

Take me back to Nagar

View of Nagar from Hunza at dusk.
View of Nagar from Hunza at dusk.

Some things are beautiful in their simplicity; others in their intricacy.

In the north of Pakistan lies an absolutely stunning district; Hunza Nagar, previously known as Brushal, this place is a lakeside paradise. Hunza and Nagar used to be separate princely states parted by the River Hunza which marked the border between the two states.

The small states of Hunza and Nagar were notorious for looting trader caravans that would come from China.

The British wanted to expand their trade to Russia from here, but the states wouldn’t allow them to. Thus in 1891, Nagar was invaded by the British Army led by Colonel Durand. British surrounded the Nagar’s Nalt Fort, and eventually seized it six months later.

Frame from Nagar.
Frame from Nagar.
A pathway in Nagar.
A pathway in Nagar.
A view of Nagar Khas.
A view of Nagar Khas.
A view of Nagar Khas.
A view of Nagar Khas.
A view of Nagar Khas.
A view of Nagar Khas.

Soon power was transferred from the British to the Maharaja of Kashmir, but owing to the long distance, locals continued to live freely. Dongs, the capital of Nagar, was in Nagar Khas where royal courts and palaces of marble still exist. It remained the capital till the last royal of Maghlot Dynasty, Mir Shaukat Ali Khan, was in power.

Hooper is the most beautiful place in Nagar, a land of snow-clad mountains, but the sheer power of glaciers to carve out new landscapes makes them intricately gorgeous too. In Gulmit valley lies Rakaposhi Mountain whereas the Diran Peak stands tall in Minapin.

An Aerial view.
An Aerial view.
On the way to Hooper
On the way to Hooper
Garden on the way to Hooper.
Garden on the way to Hooper.
On the way to Hooper.
On the way to Hooper.
Rakaposhi view from Nagar.
Rakaposhi view from Nagar.
Sunset on Altar peak from Nagar.
Sunset on Altar peak from Nagar.
A cattle is pictured grazing
A cattle is pictured grazing
A cattle is pictured grazing
A cattle is pictured grazing

Heading towards Hunza through the Karakoram Highway, I notice a long line of vehicles standing in queues due to a massive landslide blocking the road near Minapin. My driver takes an alternate route through the Minapin village, as I watch the stunning scenery race past. From the precariously narrow and bumpy route my driver takes, I lookout for the Karakoram Highway.

After a two-hour drive, we finally manage to get back on the Karakoram Highway. While the engine accelerates briskly on our way to Hunza, for the first time ever, I see Nagar.

Luscious green grassland with Golden Peak in the backdrop, I see happy faces peering out, local children playing, women stretching their backs into the sunshine amid work, and animals grazing fields — Nagar is known for its serene village life.

As soon as one leaves Hunza and crosses the river bridge after Ganesh village, a road turning right leads to Hooper. Before Hooper is Nagar Khas, which used to be the centre of Nagar. The area is flecked with fruit trees including cherries, apples, and apricots.

Nagar Khas is full of hard-working, soft-spoken people with small homes and shops. A road from the Nagar Khas Bazar leads to the last village of north, Hispar, and another towards Hooper, which houses glaciers and the Rush lake. There is no human settlement after Hooper.

A child in Nagar.
A child in Nagar.
A child in Nagar.
A child in Nagar.
Golden Peak.
Golden Peak.
Under the tree.
Under the tree.
View of Golden Peak.
View of Golden Peak.
Golden peak in background.
Golden peak in background.

Going to Hispar, I see open-air courtyards built around homes of stones where children and domesticated animals play and live together. Just staring at the bright courtyards makes me want to spend a night here.

A little after the settlement is a waterfall with water as pure and sweet as honey. The people here are heart-warming and like to offer walnuts, apricots and other delights to tourists.

Children play outside their homes as I photograph them. A huge pear tree stands tall in the courtyard, laden with pears. Crisp copper leaves tumble from the trees and sway gently in the Autumn wind.

“Hey, get me some pears, won’t you please?” I jokingly ask. Unaware that someone inside the house can possibly hear me.

Just a few minutes pass and a young woman appears from behind the door, hiding her face behind a red dupatta she hands me a basket full of pears. As I thank her, she laughingly points at a leaf in my hair and disappears behind the door.

The pears are extremely sweet, I must share them with my driver!

A local at Nagar.
A local at Nagar.
A child in Nagar.
A child in Nagar.
Woman from Nagar.
Woman from Nagar.
A child in Nagar.
A child in Nagar.
Autumn in Nagar khas.
Autumn in Nagar khas.

I reach Hispar at sunset. The village does not seem like it belongs here. It looks as if it’s cut off from the rest of the world. A strange silence and coolness surrounds the air. I decide to stay here for the night.

As I stand in the valley shaking with cold, I see a shooting star. Scared, I close my eyes as I sense it approaching towards me, as if it’s going to drop any second but the next moment, it’s gone. It was frightening, but I long to see it once again.

In the wilderness, close-calls to death are a thrilling experience too. These ditched lands are not only filled with beauty and serenity, but also with terror and fear.

It’s a chilly morning up in the north. To get to Gojal’s village Hussaini, I have to cross the Attabad Lake.

The bank of the lake is crowded and everyone seems to be in a hurry to get to the other side. One side of the bank plumbs a lake formed due to a landslide blockage that holds back the flow of the river. On the other side lie black mountains. But I’m curious about the depth of the lake.

As I see my jeep being loaded onto the boat, I take a seat. The ancient-looking boat makes me dread the voyage even before it began. The life jacket is of poor quality and looks scarier than the boat.

Enroute to Hisper.
Enroute to Hisper.
Enroute to Hisper.
Enroute to Hisper.
Enroute to Hisper
Enroute to Hisper
Autumn in Hisper.
Autumn in Hisper.

While reminiscing my childhood days, I zone out. Back in the day, on one of our family trips to River Jhelum, mother refused to let me go on a boat ride. I cried and cried, but there was no way she was going to let me sit on a worn-out boat. While I sat down by the river Jhelum and wept, the others enjoyed their ride.

I snap out of my bizarre memory as the journey comes to a halt. With children of the Hussaini village warmly waving at me, I leave behind my dejections, my fear of wrecked boats and the lifeless life vest.

Walking on the road.
Walking on the road.
Cherry blossom in Nagar khas.
Cherry blossom in Nagar khas.
Cherry blossom in Nagar Khas.
Cherry blossom in Nagar Khas.
Garden in Nagar.
Garden in Nagar.
Attabad lake.
Attabad lake.

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 58 other followers