The safety and security of Saudi Arabia relies on an old strategy that has remained unchanged over time despite leadership changes in surrounding countries: there is the need for a strong Pakistan in the east, and a powerful and stable Egypt in the west. The kingdom should maintain good and distinctive relations with these two countries, which represent its two wings, so that it can fly safely in its foreign relation endeavours.

This explains the positive attitude of the Saudi government toward Egypt. The kingdom has ignored campaigns of hype and scepticism fuelled by some writers, and perhaps by some officials, who are worried about and affected by an isolated situation in the region that fosters sensitivity toward the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood as the ruler of the largest Arab country. Saudi Arabia is officially maintaining good relations with Egypt. It is clear that Saudi Arabia sees Egypt as a nation first, and then considers who is governing it. This is in sharp contrast to those who consider the Muslim Brotherhood to be a defective party, even at the expense of their direct and immediate interests in the region.

Egypt is well and recovering, and our western wing is thus okay, but what about Pakistan?

There are many reasons for concern, and many things that Saudi Arabia can do there. Pakistan does not need financial support because all the money that goes there now will be lost. The US, for example, is tired of Pakistan, as it has spent more than $2 billion there annually for the past several years, and yet no miracle was achieved; Pakistan is still in a cycle of violence, poverty, corruption and continuing failure. It is enough to make a comparison with India to realise the full extent of the deteriorating situation in Pakistan. In addition, while you can see the light at the end of the Egyptian tunnel, there is no light in any Pakistani tunnel except a mass of flames caused by the latest absurd suicide bombings.

The main problem lies in the mind of Pakistanis - my apologies, I know that my friends there will not be happy over the remark - who have increasingly given credence to all manner of conspiracy theories. For example, Pakistanis do not consume salt because they believe that the iodine content contains a chemical solution that causes infertility, which will stop Muslims from procreating. They see it as part of a Western-Indian plot against Muslims. This is not a joke or an exaggeration, but rather a real health disaster that the Pakistani Ministry of Health and the WHO have addressed and are trying to solve.

This rumour began spreading two decades ago, and successive governments have been unable to refute it because Pakistanis usually do not trust officials. Religious leaders have unfortunately promoted the rumour and added a dimension of conspiracy to it by arguing that it is part of a continuous war against Muslims. These leaders have not rejected the rumour and warned their compatriots about the lack of iodine in their food, as they should have done.

This is a serious case. It has been proven in a survey conducted by academic and scientific authorities in Pakistan, including Unicef and Pakistan’s Ministry of Health, that iodine deficiency is one of the reasons behind the suffering of half of the 200 million populace from serious health disorders. Also, several reports have linked symptoms such as lethargy, low IQ, and low rate of productivity in all Pakistanis, to the spread of this rumour. It is believed that this has further damaged the fragile Pakistani economy.

A polio vaccine is another alleged plot to spread infertility among Muslims. Not only is this a common belief, but due to ignorance, poor reasoning and mock jurisprudence, some “religious” Pakistanis kill other Pakistanis, who are not even less religious than they are, just because they are involved in the campaigns of Unicef and the country’s health authorities.

These are the same health campaigns that took place in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Muslim countries and they have succeeded in eradicating the disease. The Pakistani Taliban have killed nine men and women, who participated in this campaign despite its noble goals. This resulted in the Ministry of Health, Unicef and voluntary associations stopping the campaign for several weeks. Earlier this month, it has resumed under the protection of armed police. These are unbelievable stories, but this is what happens when extremism goes unchecked; it rears its head again in society.

Today, extremism has become the biggest disaster for Pakistan. It is in an advanced state there; it has spread, intellectually and practically, more in that nation than any other Muslim country. There are more suicide operations there than any other Islamic country (figures only challenged by Iraq). These operations occur in mosques, markets and public places, and also against army personnel. It is unfortunate that the mufti of Pakistan’s Taliban does not see anything wrong with a young man committing suicide by blowing himself up in the market or mosque to kill people. What sound reason can permit such an action?

Religious scholars in Pakistan are unable to do anything. Those who speak out and criticise the Taliban are killed. Another large group of scholars is opportunistic and employs religion in politics. These scholars keep silent about the crimes of the Taliban, to employ them in their conflict with the government. A third group has opted for safety and remained silent.

The writer is a US-educated Saudi journalist, columnist and the general manager and editor-in-chief of Al Arab News Channel. This article has been reproduced from the Arab News. Email: Twitter: @JKhashoggi