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Wikileaks Reveals Tensions Between Pakistan, Saudis

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari and Saudi Arabian monarch King Abdullah CBS/AP

The U.S. appears to have made little headway in seeking closer cooperation between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to block wealthy Saudi sympathizers from funding Islamic conservatives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, senior Western and Arab diplomats have told CBS News after carefully examining some of the State Department documents revealed on WikiLeaks.

Pieced together, the leaked documents for the first time show evidence of underlying tensions between Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's regime and the ruling Saudi establishment of King Abdullah.

One of the documents released by WikiLeaks to the media quotes the King saying that Pakistan can never progress as long as Zardari remains the country's president — an especially disparaging remark by the Saudi monarch towards Pakistan's head of state.

The friction, according to one U.S. official who spoke to CBS News on background, "has revealed the many challenges in seeking" closer Saudi-Pakistan cooperation, notably in areas such as the flow of finances from Saudi Arabia to recipients in Pakistan who work as fronts for Islamic zealots linked to the Taliban.

"The tension in the Saudi-Pakistan relationship must be cause for concern to the U.S. Much time and effort has been spent in making this (Saudi-Pakistan) relationship work better, but the results are not very encouraging," said a Western ambassador in Islamabad who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity.

Elaborating on American interest in making the Saudis and Pakistanis establish a close working relationship, the ambassador revealed that for the past three to five years, the U.S. has worked behind the scenes to block the flow of Saudi funds to Islamic outlets in Pakistan, "but in Washington, I believe this effort is still not seen to have borne fruit."

Historically, Saudi Arabia stepped up its support to Islamic zealots in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 1980s, seeking to push "jihad," or holy war — a term used to define the Afghan-based armed resistance opposing the occupying Soviet forces. During this time, a large number of Islamic hardliners (including Osama bin Laden) traveled from countries like Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan to join the resistance.

That effort helped Saudi Arabia consolidate its long-term contacts in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region with Sunni Muslims who supported the Wahabi brand of Islam that is practiced across the oil rich desert kingdom. Historically, for most Pakistanis Islam has made inroads into countries of South Asia through the more conciliatory Sufi tradition of Islam (which stands in sharp contrast to the more rigid interpretation of Islam by Wahabi Muslims). Special Report: WikiLeaks

A week after the WikiLeaks revelations of King Abdullah's remarks, a politician from Pakistan's ruling party (known as the Pakistan People's Party, or PPP, led by Zardari) told CBS News that the relationship between the two countries had "become lukewarm."

Speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to discuss the subject with journalists, the politician claimed that Zardari had worked systematically to curb the influence of Wahabi clergy over officials in his ruling structure — a position that may have irked the Saudi establishment.

"Once the Saudis thought that the Pakistani government wanted to curb the influence of the Wahabis in the ruling structure, they pulled back from any significant support to Pakistan," said the official.

Last month, the president of a privately-owned Pakistani bank in the southern port city of Karachi told CBS News that authorities had tightened their watch on large incoming transfers in foreign currencies from the Middle East to recipients in Pakistan, mainly to block funds for the Taliban and their sympathizers.

"To make certain that any large-scale movement of funds for suspected terrorism-related purposes does not go unnoticed, we try to keep a close watch," said the bank president in a background briefing to a small group of news organizations, including CBS.

But the Western ambassador who spoke to CBS News in Islamabad said efforts such as the ones claimed by the private bank's president "are still not strong enough to make a difference to the funds going to people with militancy-related links.

"Eventually, you have to close the tap. The tap is with the Saudis, and they don't seem interested in closing it off."

CBS News' Farhan Bokhari reported from Islamabad.

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