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2 US ally Musharraf in a tangle over
Iran By M K Bhadrakumar
The intense pressure from Washington on
President General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan to
be cooperative in the "war on terror" is yielding
dramatic results, although perhaps not of the kind
relationship, which has never been easy, has
nosedived to a low point in recent weeks, even as
Musharraf remains under pressure to do more in
clamping down on al-Qaeda
the Taliban in Pakistan's tribal areas.
The moot point is to what extent Musharraf
is willingly cooperating with US regional policy
against Iran. He is skating on thin ice. He may
endear himself to Washington as a brave leader in
the Muslim world, but Pakistani public opinion is
averse to serving the US agenda over Iran. This
contradiction is fraught with dangers. It can only
further accentuate Musharraf's isolation within
Pakistan and add to the country's overall
be miscalculating that only the Shi'ites in
Sunni-dominated Pakistan will feel alienated by
Musharraf's unfriendly attitude toward Tehran. The
fact is, in emotive terms, the average Pakistani
citizen is bound to view US hostility toward Iran
as yet another instance of Washington's "crusade"
against the Islamic world.
Washington, on its part, can draw satisfaction
that it is killing two birds with one stone. It
may become difficult to advance the
Iran-Pakistan-India gas-pipeline project when a
thick cloud of distrust threatens to engulf
But first things first.
main point is that US covert operations from
Pakistani soil directed against eastern Iran's
Sistan-Balochistan province have burst into public
view. The administration of President George W
Bush has earmarked US$100 million for bringing
about "regime change" in Iran. But in the
implementation of this state policy, Washington
has chosen not to count on the sizable Iranian
expatriate community living in the US and Europe.
The Iranian exiles have virtually no credibility
within Iran. Washington knows that propaganda
apart, Iranian revolution enjoys a social base.
Moreover, the experience over Iraq has
taught Washington a lesson or two about emigre
communities. A number of Iraqi exiles whom
Washington patronized turned out to have dual
loyalties. Some, like Ahmad Chalabi, would seem to
have had even multiple loyalties. In Iran's case
the ground is even more slippery, since in the
past decade and a half, Tehran has developed an
active policy of building bridges with Iranian
exiles, especially those living in the US, who
fled the country in the wake of the revolution in
1979. Tehran even offered that their properties
that were seized by the revolutionary courts would
be restored to them. The official policy
encourages the exiles to return or, at the very
least, to identify with their native country.
All this leaves the Bush administration in
a quandary: how to craft the tools of subversion
against such an astute regime? Iran's complex
ethnic make-up provided the answer. Persians
dominate, but there are many smaller ethnic groups
with their own agendas. Edward Luttwak, consultant
to the US National Security Council, the White
House chief of staff and the Pentagon, recently
wrote, "Viewed from the inside, Iran is hardly the
formidable power that some see from the outside.
The natural outcome of ... widening ethnic
divisions ... is the breakup of Iran.
"There is no reason why Iran should be the
only multinational state to resist the nationalist
separatism that destroyed the Soviet Union and
Yugoslavia, divided Belgium in all but name, and
has decentralized Spain and even the United
Kingdom. As with the Soviet Union, there is a
better alternative to detente with a repulsive
regime - and that is to be true to the Wilsonian
tradition of American foreign policy by
encouraging and helping the forces of national
liberation within Iran," wrote Luttwak.
But here, too, Washington faces a dilemma.
The largest among the Iranian ethnic minorities,
Azeris (a quarter of Iran's 70 million
population), also happen to have assimilated well,
speaking their own language and enjoying a
presence in the body politic proportionately in
excess of their demographic strength. Besides, the
intricate calculus of Iran-Azerbaijan-Armenia (and
Iran-Russia) relations is such that Baku cannot
connive with subversive activities against Iran.
The authoritative regime in Azerbaijan cannot be
destabilized either, as Washington has huge
economic stakes in the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline.
In other words, finessing an Azeri "national
liberation movement" takes time.
next big Iranian ethnic minority consists of the
Kurds (roughly 9% of the population), but
Kurdish nationalism is a double-edged sword for
Washington brazenly to promote, as it has implications
for the integrity of Iraq, Syria and Turkey as
well. Besides, Tehran has kept up good relations with
the Kurdish faction led by Iraqi President Jalal
Talabani that dominates the eastern areas of
The next big
ethnic-minority group within Iran is Arabs,
roughly 2-3%. They mainly inhabit the region
contiguous to southern Iraq where the British
contingent is located. In recent months, Tehran
repeatedly held British intelligence responsible
for staging various terrorist acts inside Kuzestan
province. But Iran's capacity to retaliate is
virtually unlimited. This compels London to be
All this says that, apart
from sundry other minority groups of minuscule
size, such as the Turkmens, Talysh, Qashqai, Lurs,
Gilaki or Mazandarani, with hardly any surplus of
militant ethnic nationalism available for
inciting, the Balochs (who form roughly 2% of the
population) offer themselves as the obvious choice
for Washington to train its terrorism weapon
against the Iranian regime.
intelligence has obviously sized up that Balochi
nationalism within Pakistan is historically
deep-rooted and has matured. Actually, it goes all
the way back to the creation of Pakistan in 1947.
Religion further compounds matters, since Balochs
are Sunnis. It is extremely significant that
unlike Britain, Washington has shied away from
proscribing the Balochi Liberation Army (BLA) ,
despite its being a secessionist movement waging
armed insurgency against the state of Pakistan.
Islamabad alleges that the BLA receives weapons
and other forms of support from Afghanistan.
The US is using Balochi nationalism for
staging an insurgency inside Iran's
Sistan-Balochistan province. The "war on terror"
in Afghanistan gives a useful political backdrop
for the ascendancy of Balochi militancy. Tehran
has been giving Musharraf a long rope so far on
the premise that the besieged general is so
preoccupied with securing US political backing for
his presidency that he is hardly in a position to
lean on the formidable US security apparatus
operating on Pakistani soil.
probably has fresh grounds to reassess Musharraf's
intentions. Or, it is running out of patience.
Last month, terrorists killed 13 officials of the
Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Zahedan. Last
week, in another incident in the town of Negor in
Sistan-Balochistan, four Iranian policemen were
killed, one abducted and another wounded. The
perpetrators fled across the border into Pakistan.
Iran last week announced its intention to
erect a 3-meter-high concrete wall reinforced with
steel rods along its border with