A Pakistani Cabinet minister has accused the Saudi government of creating instability across the Muslim world, including Pakistan, through funding aimed at "promoting its ideology."
Federal Minister for Inter-provincial Coordination, Riaz Hussain Pirzada, speaking Tuesday in Islamabad, said that it is time to stop the influx of Saudi money.
Pirzada is the highest level Pakistani official to accuse Saudi Arabia of interfering in other countries' affairs by giving loans and other assistance to promote the Wahhabi faith, a fundamentalist brand of Sunni Islam. The timing of his comments coincide with Pakistani efforts to rally the nation against terrorism after a devastating attack on a Peshawar school that left 150 people, most of them children, dead.
The government has not issued any reaction to Pirzada's statement, but the comments have surprised many lawmakers.
Rana Muhammad Afzal, a member of Pakistan’s National Assembly from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), told VOA Urdu that Pirzada's words were shocking. “Indeed this could not be the party policy, this is a non-diplomatic statement," Afzal said. "If we have a complaint against Saudi Arabia, this is not the forum that a party minister not even involved with [foreign relations] should talk about this."
Saudi Arabia is Pakistan’s close ally and Pakistan has publicly acknowledged Saudi support of and contributions to the country.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Riyadh last week to inquire about the health of ailing Saudi King Abdullah and held talks with Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud. It was third high-level contact between the two countries in less than a year.
The amount of Saudi spending on religious training, schools, mosques and other religious undertakings in other countries has not been revealed by the Saudi government, but has been estimated to be as high as two to three billion dollars a year. Critics have long complained that the austere vision of Wahhabism has radicalized individuals in countries with traditions of more moderate Islam.
In an interview with VOA Urdu after his remarks Tuesday, Pirzada said that everyone is aware of Saudi influence abroad. "What have I said wrong?" the minister said, adding, "it's a harsh reality."