Why Iran is not at peace with itself
From geo-strategic to geo-economic perspectives, Iran is an important country. Rich in culture and civilization, Iranians are a proud people.
It is not always easy to deal with an ideological state. Revolutionary regimes are inherently inflexible. They also tend to be xenophobic, and mostly interpret developments narrowly and define and articulate their interests grandiloquently.
The world has hugely transformed since the Iranian revolution in 1979. The Shah regime was seen as a brutal one. When the people of Iran rose against Shah Pahlavi, and eventually toppled him, there was in many parts of the Muslim world spontaneous jubilation. It was hoped that Iran, with the return of Khomeini from exile would take a turn for the better. The people of Iran, finally unshackled from the state’s cruelties would make a new beginning under a genuine democratic system and become a blazing star for at least the rest of the Muslim world. That was doubtlessly, too much to hope for.
Iran’s ongoing multiple internal and external issues continue to impede the realization of its vast potential. The irony is that revolutionary Iran, instead of integrating with the Muslim world has become one of the main reasons for causing divisions and now seems apparently beyond redemption. Detractors of Iran cannot be more content with what the country is going through at present, reckoning that the 1979 revolution is fast approaching its natural death. However, natural deaths are not always peaceful.
Internally, Iran is neither democratic nor at peace with itself. Its authoritarian and controlled democracy can hardly be cherished. There are stringent state controls in every walk of life. Under UN and US sanctions on its controversial nuclear programme, its economy is facing huge challenges-- especially as coronavirus wreaks havoc. Whopping inflation has made life for ordinary Iranians unbearable. In recent street protests, many died at the hands of security forces, and the state showed no mercy. Unless the Iranian regime finds itself at peace, it seems well-nigh impossible for it to get to grips with its internal fault lines.
The irony is that revolutionary Iran, instead of integrating with the Muslim world has become one of the main reasons for causing divisions and now seems apparently beyond redemption. Detractors of Iran cannot be more content with what the country is going through at present, reckoning that the 1979 revolution is fast approaching its natural death. However, natural deaths are not always peaceful.
As for the external front, revolutionary Iran, instead of becoming a source of inspiration for the rest of the Muslim world, started pursuing divisive sectarian policies, stoking apprehensions, especially in the Sunni world. Yes, Iran with its huge all-encompassing potential could have been a positive factor. However, as with other revolutions in the past, it could not suppress the ideological temptation to be the voice of Shiites in the Sunni world. It soon became a self-declared leader of the Shias everywhere, raising genuine apprehensions of its long-term objectives.
The Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) formed after the collapse of the erstwhile Soviet Union could not do much, for Iran insisted its headquarters be in Tehran. Consequently, the ECO has literally become a burden. Iran under sanctions, Tehran was the least suitable city to house the ECO and the results are for everyone to see and introspect.
This is not to argue that it is Iran which has been at fault at every step. The West led by the US and emboldened by Israel, has been missing no opportunity to weaken Iran. They openly espoused the objective of regime change and found one pretext or the other to keep Iran under pressure. Take for example, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s controversial nuclear programme that has now been unilaterally revoked by the Trump administration. That was a huge setback, as Iran had been fully adhering to its part of the deal and the US had no valid justification to rubbish the agreement that was arrived at after years of painstaking negotiations.
On the other hand, Iran was also entered in a protracted and devastating war with Iraq in the 80’s, that is, when the revolution was in its nascent stage and struggling to take its roots. The US thus clearly exhibited its pathological aversion to the Iranian revolution and left no stone unturned to subvert it.
Iran at present is going through a slew of internal and external problems. The Iranian leadership is in serious need of introspection as to where things went wrong and now how to fix them. The question is: Is it possible for Tehran to strengthen its revolutionary gains without pitting itself against the rest of the Muslim world?
To begin with, it must soften its 'revolutionary zeal' at least outside its borders. Should that happen, Tehran will not find itself alone in the Muslim world for whatever it’s worth.
– Abdul Basit is the president of Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies. He was previously Pakistan's ambassador to Germany and Pakistan's High Commissioner to India.