NEW YORK - Saudi Arabia has enlisted the help of Pakistani instructors to train Syrian rebel forces in a new push to topple President Bashar al-Assad’s government, according to a report in the Foreign Policy magazine.

Quoting three sources, David Kenner, the magazine Middle East Editor, said that the Saudi Arabia took the step after having largely abandoned hope that the United States will spearhead international efforts to oust the Syrian government.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, alongwith the CIA, also supported the Afghan rebels against the Soviet-backed government during the 1980s, the report pointed out. “That collaboration contains a cautionary note for the current day. The Afghan rebels were unable to govern after the old regime fell, paving the way for chaos and the rise of the Taliban. Some of the insurgents, meanwhile, transformed into al Qaeda and eventually turned their weapons against their former patrons,” it said.

While the risk has been discussed in Riyadh, the report said that the Saudis with knowledge of the training programme describe it as an antidote to extremism, not a potential cause of it.

They have described the Kingdom’s effort as having two goals — toppling the Assad regime, and weakening al Qaeda linked groups in the country.

Prince Turki, the former Saudi Arabian intelligence chief and envoy to Washington, said in a recent interview that the mainstream Opposition must be strengthened so that it could protect itself “these extremists who are coming from all over the place” to impose their own ideologies on Syria.

The ramped up Saudi Arabian effort has been spurred by the Kingdom’s disillusionment with the United States, according to the report.

A Saudi Arabian insider with knowledge of the programme described how Riyadh had determined to move ahead with its plans after coming to the conclusion that President Barack Obama was simply not prepared to move aggressively to oust Assad.

“We didn’t know if the Americans would give [support] or not, but nothing ever came through,” the source said. “Now we know the President just didn’t want it.”

Pakistan’s role, according to the report, is so far relatively small, though another source with knowledge of Saudi Arabian thinking said that a plan was currently being debated to give Pakistan responsibility for training two rebel brigades, or around 5,000 to 10,000 fighters.

A State Department official declined to comment on the Saudi Arabian training programme.

Saudi Arabia’s decision to move forward with training the Syrian rebels independent of the United States is the latest sign of a split between the two longtime allies. In Syria, Saudi Arabian officials were aggrieved by Washington’s decision to cancel a strike on the Assad regime in reprisal for its chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburbs this summer.

A top Saudi Arabian official told the Washington Post that Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan was unaware of the cancellation of the strike. “We found about it from CNN,” he said.

As a result, Saudi Arabia has given up on hopes that the United States would spearhead efforts to topple Assad and decided to press forward with its own plans to bolster rebel forces, it said, adding, that that effort relies on a network of Saudi Arabian allies in addition to Pakistan, such as Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and France.

Given the increased Islamisation of rebel forces on the ground, analysts say, it only makes sense that Saudi Arabia would throw its support behind Salafist groups, the report said.

These militias “happen to be the most strategically powerful organisations on the ground,” said Charles Lister, an analyst with IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre. “If Saudi Arabia does indeed follow such a strategy... it could well stand to become a major power player in the conflict.”

In calling on Pakistan to assist in toppling Assad, it said, Saudi Arabia can draw on its deep alliance with Islamabad. The two countries have long shared defence ties: Saudi Arabia has given more aid to Pakistani than to any non-Arab country, according to former CIA officer Bruce Riedel, and also allegedly helped fund Islamabad’s nuclear programme.

In return, Pakistan based troops in Saudi Arabia multiple times over three decades to protect the Royals grip on power, according to the report.

The current Pakistani government, in particular, is closely tied to Saudi Arabia, Foreign Policy magazine said.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was ousted from power in 1999 by a military coup - the Saudis allegedly brokered a deal that kept him from prison.

“For Saudi Arabia, Nawaz Sharif is a key partner in a key allied State,” Arif Rafiq, scholar at the Middle East Institute, was quoted as stating.

Pakistan is already grappling with its own sectarian bloodshed and must mind its relationship with Iran, while its foreign policy is focused on negotiations with the Taliban over the future of Afghanistan and its longtime rivalry with India, Foreign Policy said. “They have their hands full,” the source said. “And even if they want to, I don’t think they will be able to give much concrete help.”