Iran’s Cyrus Syndrome


One may hate Iran for all its snobbery, but you can’t help but marvel at this enigma of history and its bouts of grandeur. Its history owes much to its geostrategic location. Tucked nicely into a remote nook of the Middle Eastern rim of the Indian Ocean, but linked to Eurasia with a landmass bisected in the middle by the Caspian Sea!
Her western flank is partly secured by the narrow Persian Gulf and the eastern border by a particularly inhospitable Balochistan desert. Meanwhile, the utter barrenness of the lower Mount Hindukush spurs penetrate south-western Afghanistan and Iranian Sistan. Quite a strategic opportunity for expansion with a simultaneous military vulnerability: both lay in the land corridors connecting her to the Eurasian landmass East and West of the Caspian Sea.
The other oft-used invasion route in and out of Iran has been the Iraq -Syrian swath of land. Iran has been a prisoner of its geography in more than one way unlike present-day Pakistan that learnt its ropes to survive by adjustment to repeated invasions from across the Hindukush. We refined the fabulous technique of compromise. Those who could not took to inaccessible valleys of the intervening Hindukush or withdrew to equally difficult territories of Rajputana (now Rajasthan) to conserve their freedom and identity. Iranians did not have this geographic luxury. Therefore, they mastered the fine art of diplomacy and playing one power against the other to their advantage.
Iran saw some truly dazzling imperial grandeur in her brilliant history, going back thousands of years. Its zenith was achieved during the reign of Cyrus the Great in 550 BC. At that time, the Iranian Achaemenid Empire included territories presently known as Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Black Sea Coastal Region, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Ancient Egypt, Libya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Afghanistan, Pakistan and much of Central Asia. It was the greatest empire of its time, which remained unparalleled in wealth, magnificence and majesty. There were other periods of greatness, which came over Iran, held their sway and went their way. However, except for a later-day incursion by Nader Shah Afshar, the Iranian empire did not venture beyond River Indus. This imperial omission will have effects, which we will come to a little later.
The sun finally set over the Iranian Golden Eagle by the early-19th century. However, we may note that present Afghanistan and Pakistan were comparatively less prestigious imperial Iranian territories compared to their Eurasian and Central Asian possessions. In this broad background of lost Iranian glory and yearning for regional power status, it will be easier to understand their strange reactions to the sudden fall of Kabul to the Taliban and the lightning capture of Panjshir Valley. Before that, it is important to know that Iran has ethnic and sectarian closeness to the people living in the part of Afghanistan stretching from Herat to Kunduz in the northwest, that is where it links with Panjshir Valley and touches Tajikistan due north. Similar is the case with the Hazarajat in the off-centre southwest. It is this leverage that Iran had planned to manipulate to her strategic advantage as the US was withdrawing. This manoeuver failed before it could be set up because of the Taliban’s swift sweep to power.
Elements of Iran’s Afghan strategy became apparent when Khamenei had invited Mullah Baradar to Iran while the Taliban were still terrorists in the hope that he will form a coalition govt with Ashraf Ghani when the US withdraws paving the way for increased Iranian influence in Afghanistan. The sudden US withdrawal and Ashraf Ghani’s flight shattered this hope. It was followed by a disappointment with the interim Taliban cabinet where all ministers are Taliban-affiliates and Haqqanis who have a serious conflict with the Shiite Iranian regime.
Iran has not been a friend but only diplomatic. Therefore, it was never comfortable with Pakistan’s better equation with the Taliban and continuously spun webs of incentives, including hosting certain Taliban leaders like Mullah Akhtar Mansoor’s family, engineering cracks in Taliban leadership and claiming deeper mutual economic stakes with client regimes in Kabul. It was with this motive that Iran teamed up with India, which was desperate to access Central Asian markets and beyond, allowed her to develop Chahbahar seaport and connect it with Afghanistan by Indian-funded Chahbahar- Zaranj Road, on to Qandahar- Herat highway. But geostrategic factors were already arrayed against this very ambitious venture. It too came crashing down the moment, Kabul fell to the Taliban.
Iran feels that the recent turn of events in Afghanistan favours the Taliban, Pakistan and their Gulf Arab allies. And that Iran is the “net loser.” This remorse is rooted in their ancient nostalgia rather than anything to do with security and the Afghan Shiite enclave. To that end, Iran has since long sheltered Baloch terrorists and their families. It provides schooling to their children and treatment to those wounded in encounters with Pakistan LEAs, in their hospitals. Dr Allah Nazar and many others have safe havens in Iran. They provided telescope-fitted sniper rifles and night vision binoculars to Baloch terrorists, which increased our casualties and allowed them to escape capture or disappearance before troops could close up. Al-Qaeda’s next leader, Saif ul Adil, is their guest and so were some of the Taliban leaders. They have been actively fanning sectarian frictions in Pakistan and lured our people to fight for them in the Middle East as Zenabyoon and Fatimyoon foot soldiers.
It was 1982 when Qom ordered Shia followers in Pakistan to become aggressive, which escalated sectarian friction to deadly levels. Their supreme leadership is on record to have told an Indian delegation in France, just before the revolution that they trusted India more than Pakistan. That explains their unholy continuous incline towards India at Pakistan’s cost. Before being nabbed by Pakistan LEAs, Indian spy saboteur, Kalbhoshun Yadav, had set up headquarters in Tehran and forwarded sabotage base in Chahbahar. Had we waited a little more, we could also bag at least 16 Indian terror instructors, who were in the pipeline. Similarly, notorious Uzair Baloch was recruited by Iranian intelligence to work for Indian agencies. It could be a mistake to have involved Iranian intelligence in the recent regional intelligence conference held in Islamabad. Ordinarily, they are charming to talk to but are duplicitous and unreliable allies. Iranian diplomats invariably do not say what they mean and do not mean what they say. We have to stop pussy-footing to Iran in the vain hope of winning their favour. If their heart is not in the right place, our mind should be.
Iranian malice against Pakistan ignited by the fall of Panjshir came to the fore on September 6, when Tehran Times reported a statement by Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Khatibzadeh, saying, “The intervention of Pakistan in Panjshir attacks is currently under examination”
This was directly picked up from the fake news mills of India and the US, who were nursing their wounds of defeat and puzzled over the comprehensive collapse of their client Ashraf Ghani regime in just under two weeks. Ex-President Ahmadi Najad in an interview with an Indian channel echoed the same allegation. Tehran Times continued with this refrain meanwhile there were anti-Pakistan demonstrations staged before the Pakistan Embassy in Tehran, of course with leadership’s explicit approval.
Iran is one iron-clad theocracy, where as far back as 1997, I saw cassette players in the hotels pulled out of the decks. In the middle of the night, we would hear gunshots and loud wailing by women and then, eerie silence. Our hotel was on Tehran’s Sharah-e-Wali Asr. In the morning, the manager would deny hearing any shooting. The fact was that Passdaran would identify an anti-regime household, hold a summery court at night and shoot the accused on the spot.
This has been the scale of their brutality and savage motivation. All their piety and soft exterior can not hide the barbarian inside, as they have programmed themselves in a perpetual sectarian persecution state of being at the hand of Sunni Islam after the mass conversion to Shiism in 1500 AD. What was that of Iraq’s sad burden of Islamic history has been hijacked by political Iran and glamorised into championing the cause of the House of the Holy Prophet. They have made it into an art of creating great and lasting schism in the world of Islam, an aggressive one after the appearance of Imam Khomeini on the scene. Their discomfort at the fall of Panjshir, Taliban and nuclear Pakistan has more to do with their old desire to be the predominant regional power.