Bringing Democracy to the Mountains of Iran

Foreign devils in the Iranian mountains
By M K Bhadrakumar

02/24/07 “ICH” — – In a rare public criticism of Pakistan, the Tehran Times commented last week that an exclusive Islamabad-Washington nexus is at work manipulating the Afghan situation. The daily, which reflects official Iranian thinking, spelled out something that others perhaps knew already but were afraid to talk about publicly.

All the same, the commentary gave a candid Iranian insight into the state of play in Afghanistan. It estimated that without a comprehensive rethink of strategy aimed at addressing the problems of weak political institutions, misgovernance, corruption, warlordism, tardy reconstruction, drug trafficking and attendant mafia, and excesses by the coalition forces, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) couldn’t possibly hope to get anywhere near on top of the crisis in Afghanistan.

The commentary pointed a finger at Pakistan’s training the Taliban and providing them with “logistical and political support”. It highlighted that US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who visited Islamabad recently, chose to sidestep the issue and instead bonded with President General Pervez Musharraf. This is because Washington’s priority – that the “new cold war” objective of NATO is to establish a long-term presence in the region – can be realized only with Musharraf’s cooperation.

The Iranian outburst was, conceivably, prompted by the spurt of trans-border terrorism inside Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan province, which borders Pakistan. Ten days ago, a militant group called Jundallah killed 11 members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards in an attack in the city center of Zahedan. Iranian state media reported that the attack was part of US plans to provoke ethnic and religious violence in Iran. Balochs are Sunnis numbering about 1.5 million out of Iran’s 70 million predominantly Shi’ite population.

Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi alleged that in the recent past, US intelligence operatives in Afghanistan had been meeting and coordinating with Iranian militants, apart from encouraging the smuggling of drugs into Iran from Afghanistan. He said the US operatives were working to create Shi’ite-Sunni strife within Iran.

American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has copiously written about recent US covert operations inside Iran. With reference to the incidents in Zahedan, Stratfor, a think-tank with close connections to the US military and security establishment, commented that the Jundallah militants are receiving a “boost” from Western intelligence agencies. Stratfor said, “The US-Iranian standoff has reached a high level of intensity … a covert war [is] being played out … the United States has likely ramped up support for Iran’s oppressed minorities in an attempt to push the Iranian regime toward a negotiated settlement over Iraq.”

Iran is fast joining ranks with India and Afghanistan as a victim of trans-border violence perpetrated by irredentist elements crossing over from Pakistan. Tehran, too, will probably face an existential dilemma as to whether or not such acts of terrorism are taking place with the knowledge of Musharraf and, more importantly, whether or not Musharraf is capable of doing anything about the situation.

Iran, perhaps, is somewhat better placed than India or Afghanistan to resolve this dilemma, since it is the US (and not Pakistan) that is sponsoring the trans-border terrorism. And what could Musharraf do about US activities on Pakistani soil even if he wanted to? The Iranians seem to have sized up Musharraf’s predicament.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Tehran, while announcing last Sunday that the Pakistani ambassador to Iran was being summoned to receive a demarche over the Zahedan incident, also qualified that it was Iran’s belief that the Pakistani government as such couldn’t be party to the creation of such “insecurities” on the Pakistan-Iran border region.

Indeed, Tehran is used to the US stratagem. Sponsoring terrorist activities inside Iran has been a consistent feature of US regional policy over the past quarter-century. Tehran seems to have anticipated the current wave. Last May, in a nationwide television address, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad accused Iran’s “enemies” of stoking the fires of ethnic tensions within Iran. He vowed that the Iranian nation would “destroy the enemy plots”.

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