Pak-Iran relations: elections and beyond?
It is an interesting time on the young street of Iran. Youth are expecting a victory against the clergy. The Prague spring is in the air. The cities are green in the colour of change proposed by reformist candidate Mir Hussain Mousuvi. How far this HOPE and CHANGE can go, only time will tell?
PIPFPD: Pakistan -Iran people’s forum for Progress and Democracy
The Pakistani-Indian people to people friendship society with the same initials started its work nearly two decades ago, when the Pak-Indian subcontinent was under dark clouds of war hysteria and animosity. Thinking back, those times seem a century rather than a decade back. Pakistani and Indian actors, musicians, journalists, business people and human rights activists made this venture such a resounding success that the politicians, on both sides, had to follow in their foot steps.
Pakistan and Iran, fortunately, have no history of war and hatred in conventional sense. Pakistani society and culture is at the junction of Middle East (Iran) and South Asia (India).Pashtun and Baloch and many in southern Punjab and sindh, trace back their ancestry to Arabian and Iranian tribes, who have been migrating to North West of India for centuries. Many prominent politicians and Generals, like premier Gillani, President Zardari, Bhutto family, Gen.Yahya Khan(Iran),Gen.Waheed Kakar(Afghan),Gen. Syed Musharraf and Gen. Pasha (the Turkish Connection) are descendants of Middle Eastern Muslim tribes who escaped ,the religious pogroms against Shia and Sufi Muslim minorities, to the relative safety of plural Indian plains.
Pakistan and Iran share common linguistic base and a written script with common vocabulary which links 30% of Urdu to Persian (in Iran) and Dari (in Afghanistan). Spoken Urdu-Hindi (in India and Pakistan) is the third largest language in world and Persian-Urdu and Arabic written script (used in 50 countries) is the fastest growing in cyber space and blog-sphere. Urdu and Persian were adopted by Mogul and Sikh Kings as the official language of the state for many centuries in India and Punjab in 18th century.
Despite the historic connections, the political and economic relations between Iran and Pakistan have, at best, been patchy since 1947 independence of Pakistan. Autocratic rule, military coups and wars with India and Iraq have destabilised Pakistan and Iran respectively.
American interference and financial aid had a love-hate relationship with the elite of Iran and Pakistan. In an effort to counter the balance of power within the Muslim world, successive American administrations alternated their financial and political favouritism between the autocratic shah of Iran and military dictatorships of Pakistan.
This Great game ended with two near simultaneous Islamist coups in both the countries. Pakistani military dictator was pro-American Sunni fundamentalist taking his orders from anti-Iran regime in Saudi-Arabia while the Iranian shia clergy staged a kidnappers’ coup after the popular revolution against an American backed shah. The two countries took two very different paths to the destination of harsh Islamic shariah laws. While Pakistan basked in the glorious sunshine of American and Arabian dollars courtesy of afghan jihad, Iran was suffering under economic embargo and stagnant cultural and social life due to American hostility and Islamic regime. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq created drug trafficking, millions of refugees and bootleggers markets in anything classified illegal under strict Islamic laws.
The mistrust and mutual hatred, between the autocratic regimes, was highlighted by the attempts of Zia ul Haq to impose Sunni law on the Shia minority of Pakistan. Muslims who did not pray during office hours or did not fast and anyone caught eating during the fasting of Ramadan faced prosecution. Zakat was compulsorily deducted from Muslim account holders in all banks, this created the biggest Shia demonstration Pakistan has ever seen. Shia sect refused to comply with shariah being imposed by general Zia and his Saudi mentors. Shias(20% in population) contemplated starting a civil disobedience, backing down after pressure from Shia clergy of Iranian revolution. Zia fearing a belligerent Iran and hostility from educated shias within military and civil bureaucracy exempted Shia from zakat deduction.
Iran created the shia militants (movement for enforcing the laws of imam jaffar), Saudi Arabia and Iraq responded by arming the “soldiers of companions of Mohammed”, an organisation openly calling shia as non Muslims and declaration of Sunni law in line with Saudi clergy.
While the sectarian killings continued by the two sides,In 1990s the Taliban phenomenon in Afghanistan and their brutal treatment of Shia minorities in bamiyan, kept the Pakistan Iran friendship in cold storage. The election of a modern reformist president Muhammed Khatmi did little to improve the relations because the Iranian clergy and army did not see Pakistani links with America with kindness. Death to America and Israel is the chant religiously incorporated in Shia Islamic prayers by the belligerent clerics of supreme leader of Islamic revolt. The women, religious minorities, journalists, human rights activists, musicians and actors regularly suffer abuse, torture, disappearance, kidnapping, imprisonment and hanging or firing squads by summary religious courts.
The Petroleum exports have filled the coffers of the newly rich elite which cling to the religious clergy and army in hope of trickle down effect of corruption and kickbacks. The Iranian government has spent money on education, health and scientific development in an effort to calm the youth of the country. Tehran is the only Muslim city with an underground transport system. Iranian nuclear development is causing concern in the western capitals. Iranian universities are hotbed of stand-alone scientific research in diverse fields ranging from genetics to aviation. Philosopher Emmaul Kant has been the most frequently translated foreigner into Persian language. Iranian bloggers and writers abroad are keeping the freedom of expression alive. Iranian cinema is one of the most vibrant in the world, culturally and socially albeit lacking the marketing and financial prowess of Bollywood and Hollywood.
The educated youth, despite the recent improvements, remain in high unemployment and suffer mental and emotional torture due to ban on various harmless cultural and social activities. Iranian refugees number the highest in Western Europe and every year more than 250,000 young flee abroad in order break free from collective Berlin wall of religious orthodoxy.
Does Pakistan eye Iran as an opportunity or a threat? Newly crowned President Zardari took nearly a year to visit Iran, may be because of the bad press (read George Bush factor) relating to the hard-line extremist president Mahmoud Ahmedinajed. Herein lays the biggest problem of leadership, because both these presidents allegedly suffer from hyper-active attention deficiency when it comes to economic diplomacy.
Who will take the initiative? And how, is the million dollar question. I ,as an ordinary citizen with a Iranian ancestory of sufi muslim forefathers going back seven generations to the historic city of neshapour, famous for Poet Omar Khayyam and red wine, have humbly tried to suggested the solution for this paradoxical of love-hate relationship between the governments and people of Iran and Pakistan.
Diplomacy is the art of the possible, not always the ideal. First step is to Publish a comprehensive Urdu-Persian conversation Dictionary, mutual opening of airwaves and cyberspace for TV, Radio and websites, Pakistani government granting tourist and business visas for Iranian youth and business people and Iran offering scholarships and exchange faculty places to research students and professors from minority shia community(Iranian government does not fully trust the motives of majority sunni parties).The Iranian and Pakistani democrats and intellectuals in exile can meet and strategise in Europe, USA and Dubai about the future of these two estranged twin siblings.