The General’s visit to Iran
The first foreign
visit of the military ruler alias Chief Executive of Pakistan, General Musharraf, was to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Then followed Turkey and
the latest is Iran. Pakistan has a long history of relationship with these
three countries beginning with the Baghdad Pact through CENTO and RCD etc.
Apart from being the camp followers in the US strategies in the region,
these four countries also developed bilateral and multilateral relations
among themselves. Whenever their leaders meet formally or informally, they
exude gestures of goodwill and patent rhetoric to confuse if not to mislead
the unsuspecting observers. The deep fissures that exist in these relations
are wrapped in superficial cordialities.
Iran’s President Khatami’s meeting with the visiting
Pakistani General had been cancelled owing to his illness. But at the last
moment, Khatami agreed to meet with him in Sa’dabad Palace, the palace
where once Iran's royal house of Pahlavis sat in stately grandeur.
While the Pakistani Chief Executive was talking
to the Iranian counterpart on Afghanistan, the region, and Kashmir, leading
Teheran newspapers brought out write-ups and editorials saying that Iran-Pakistan
friendship was fine but Iran would be happy only with the return of civilian
rule in Pakistan.
General Musharraf told newsmen on return that
he talked about Afghanistan, the region, bilateral issues and Kashmir.
But he carefully avoided saying what the Iranian press had to comment on
Obviously, what the press in Iran said did not
suit General Musharraf. But more than that what General Musharraf did with
the elected government of Nawaz Sharif do not either suit Iranians. If
Iran is to support the takeover by the military in Pakistan, isn’t it inviting
the same fate for itself? Military takeover is not unknown to Iranians.
Did not Reza Shah Pahlavi, the commander of the Cossack Brigade and the
founder of the Pahlavi ruling house, grab power through a coup?
The internal situation Iran is hardly normal or
peaceful though on the surface, there may appears a lull. A fierce struggle
for power is going on between the radicals and the liberals within the
ecclesiastical establishment of that country. The Shia pontiff and supreme
religious leader, Ayatollah Khamenei and the supreme council of religious
leaders on the one hand and the elected President on the other are locked
in a grim battle for power and authority. Though the President has been
carrying on his policies with caution, often sliding from moderation to
forced extremism and back, yet he has not enough political and institutional
strength to enforce his progressive agenda.
For more than a year, the student community in
Teheran has been behaving defiantly. Even clashes between the students
and the police or the students and the guards have taken place with one
or two deaths and injuries to several of them. They have been protesting
essentially against undue control on civil liberties. Even there have been
voices demanding restoration of normal relations with the United States
The recent controversy has arisen from the verdict
passed by the religious court in Teheran against Sayyid Abdullah Noori,
a member of the Iranian parliament and the "right-hand man" of President Khatami. He has been given five years imprisonment. Behind this prosecution
is the political vendetta because Abdullah Noori enjoys the support of
the more liberal youth forming a strong segment of Iranian society. The
clerics are afraid that Noori might carry the nation with him and thus
their position and power would be jeopardized.
Iran and Pakistan have never really enjoyed good
relations after the Islamic revolution of Ayatollah Khumeini succeeded
in Iran and the monarchy was deposed. The late religious leader and his
close associates knew that the military rulers of Pakistan, like the monarchs
of Iran, were the props and pillars of American strategies in the Gulf
and the region.
Apart from this, the Sunni-Shia sectarian divide
in Pakistan has been a thorn in the side of Iran. She has been occasionally
protesting against the planned killing of Shias in different towns of Pakistan
including those in Gilgit and Baltistan of Northern Areas by the fanatics
of Sunni organizations like Sipah-e-Sahabah. Yet other larger interests
overshadowed these protests. Pakistan being a very active member of OIC,
Iran has to reckon with Islamabad lest she gets isolated in the Sunni dominated
OIC. After all late Ayatollah Khumeini had opened the confrontation with
the Saudi monarchy for the leadership of the Muslim world. He wanted Iran
to wrest this leadership but the Saudis reacted with much greater strength
and international reach. They floated the Ar-Rabita, the Wahhabi Sunni
organization with international branches and chapters, flooded them with petro-dollar booty, intelligence expertise, sophisticated telecom systems
and proper coordination. As a result, Iranian overtures in Central Asia
got squeezed to Tajikistan only though even that too is highly debatable.
Saudis used Pakistan for a counter operation.
Thus today we find the most powerful Wahhabi religious groups with adequate
military muscle provided by Pakistan. This became a new base for relationship
between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. When Saudis drew the blueprint for Taliban,
Pakistan had to play the key role. With the rise of Taliban, Afghanistan
– Pakistan political landscape presented a new outlook. Pakistan encouraged
the Wahhabi chapter and Iran could do nothing to forestall isolation and
sidelining of the Shia groups in northwestern Afghanistan. And when the
day of open confrontation came, the Shias were routed and the Taliban established
their sway over Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif. In Mazar-e Sharif seven Iranian
diplomats were done to death by Taliban crusaders. Iran protested, threatened,
moved her armoured columns close to Afghnistan’s western border and fumed
and fretted. Taliban retaliated saying they would strike at all big towns
of Iran if Iran dared open armed confrontation. Teheran ate the humble
pie, withdrew and reconsidered the option of resolving Afghan dispute through
Obviously, the General told the Iranians that
he was not going to change the status quo in Afghanistan though he would
not encourage the Sunni extremists in Pakistan to attack the Shias. The
rhetoric of a government of ethnic alliance is nothing new. But he wanted
Iran to understand that the military rule was going to stay in Pakistan
and Iran had no option but to talk to him. Indirectly, he conveyed a threat
to the Iranians that if they resiled on Kashmir and tilted in favour of
India because Indo-Iran relations had been improving in regional strategy,
Pakistan would not accept it and would not ensure protection of the Shia
population either in Afghanistan or in Pakistan or in the Northern Areas.
Iran has no choice but to sulk in anger and indignity.