The flurry of high-level visits between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia that started with the installation of the Sharif government has intensified and is reaching a sort of a crescendo these days. After visits by quite a few members of the all-important royal family, the crown prince of the kingdom, who also officiates as the Deputy Prime Minister and the Defence Minister, arrived here two days ago with a battery of ministers. The entire Pakistani power hierarchy was at the airport to receive him including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The reports, as usual, are full of clichés about brotherly relations and royal promises of investment and jobs but don’t say much about the “discussion on regional matters” that is mentioned only in passing. Ironically, this un-discussed discussion is what matters the most.

As it is, the discourse on terrorism in Pakistan does not pay enough attention to the international context within which our nightmare is unfolding. Obviously, it is not as simple as the violence of a few thousand men misled in the name of God. It is not an isolated phenomenon, that arose by itself and has grown on its own, but something unmistakably linked to a much larger barbaric machine, assembled and let loose on many countries of the world. It is not sustained by divine air-drops but a nexus of international players who provide the terrorists with sanctuaries, sophisticated weapons and gadgetry and bundles of dollars. It would be naïve to think that we could end terrorism without tackling the international dimension to this curse. Unfortunately, that is exactly what the Sharif government appears to be doing.

The public stance of the government regarding its talks with the TTP conveys the impression that the state is negotiating with some disgruntled citizens gone violent. It refuses to address the issue of international linkages of and support for the terrorist organization, the bulk of the iceberg that floats beneath its bloodstained tip. President Karzai has finally admitted that there are sanctuaries for terrorists operating against Pakistan in his country but naturally there is not much he can do about it now that he is on his way out. Heading a government propped up by occupation forces, there wasn’t much he could do about it even earlier. But what about the US that has occupied Afghanistan since 2001 and is known for its expertise at grooming and unleashing agents of violence to sow chaos in targeted countries?

The imperial ambitions of the US and its allies are not restricted to Muslim countries, of course. The deployment of agents of chaos as a tool of imperial power is obvious these days from Venezuela to Ukraine. However, what concerns us is the phenomenon of the so-called Islamic terrorists that are targeting Pakistan. Why do our terrorists have so much in common with those wreaking havoc in Syria, Libya and Iraq? Is it just a coincidence that they mouth the same intolerant and extremist brand of Islam? Is it just by chance that their tactics, their targets and the way they terrorize and kill citizens are the same? What is the role of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in all of this? It is not insignificant by any count.

From the days of the ‘Afghan jihad’ against the Soviet Union, when Saudi Arabia partnered with the CIA to create fodder for the imperial war machine, sponsoring seminaries in Pakistan and designing their rabidly sectarian syllabi to create militant Islamists with no regard for fellow Muslims let alone minorities, the kingdom has continued to work closely with the US-led empire on propping up these militant groups for reshaping the Middle East. The propagation of an extremist sectarian ideology in Muslim countries has been more damaging than the logistical support that it has provided for attacking its Muslim neighbors. It is openly supporting the terrorists in Syria morally and materially. Interestingly, the two countries most upset by the US decision to back off from attacking Syria were Israel and Saudi Arabia.

In Pakistan, for decades Saudi Arabia has sponsored clerics, seminaries, religious organizations and groups that provide the bedrock of support for the terrorists. The terrorists themselves were weaned in such institutions and subscribe to the sectarian ideology promoted by the kingdom. The influence the Saudi rulers wield within the Pakistani establishment should not be under-estimated either; what with the whisking away of a deposed Prime Minister and his return before time. Add to this the special ties with the Sharif family that it hosted in exile for almost a decade, and we have an alarming situation at hand. Surely, there is more to these frequent meetings between the high and mighty of the two countries than meets the eye.

Somehow, the policies and actions of the royal rulers of Saudi Arabia are generally exempted from scrutiny in Pakistan. This might have to do with their status as the custodians of Khana Kaaba and the leadership of the Muslim world that they claim for themselves as a consequence of that. If their opulent lifestyles and hereditary monarchy, both repugnant to the teachings of Islam, is not enough to strip them of their leadership claim, their propagation of a sectarian war within Muslim countries surely is. It is time to deal with the royal Saudi government without the reverence traditionally reserved for it.

Does the Sharif government’s soft corner for the TTP have anything to do with the Saudi connection? What is the Saudi position on the TTP and the government’s dialogue with the terrorist organization? What, after all, are the “regional matters” that the two sides will discuss? The Saudi citizens might not have the right to know, ruled as they are by a king. But is it not the right of Pakistanis to know the details of the discussion its government has with an international player so deeply involved in the business of Islamic extremism? The brotherly relations are all very well, but at this crucial time in our history, the government cannot be allowed to continue the policy of secrecy when it comes to “discussion on regional matters” with Saudi Arabia.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.