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After Afghanistan
Iran may not be far behind

By Hajmirzakhan
December 10, 2001
The Iranian

Afghanistan is the closest cultural neighbor of Iran. A shared language with most Afghans is a major affliliation; especially when literature is the most inspiring force in both societies. Historically, the two countries have gone through the same cycles together. Both nations have enjoyed periods of true greatness, interwoven with spectacular free-falls. From Alexander the Great, to Arabs and Mongols, both have been affected by the same world forces, and yet each survived. Neither Iran nor Afghanistan became a colony of Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Historical parallels don't end there. In the 20th century, Nadir Shah established his dynasty in Afghanistan in 1919, while Reza Shah Pahlavi came to power in Iran in 1921. Both regimes were similar in trying to modernize after a Western model. Their sons, Zahir Shah and Mohammad Reza Shah, were driven out of power in 1973 and 1979, respectively, and replaced by republics.

Does this trend suggest that whatever happens in Afghanistan, happens in Iran between 2 to 6 years later? If that is the case, we better pay close attention to what is happenning in Afghanistan right now.

The relationship between the two cultures is strained these days, even though I think it is only on the surface. Iranians either don,t know much about Afghanistan, or consider Afghan culture a subset of Iranian culture. Iran is also better off materially, thanks to oil. This snobbery has often caused Afghans to disassociate themselves from Iranians, and take pride in their own cultural identity.

In comparison to Iranians, Afghans are a more frank, bold, and, dare I say, beautiful people. By the percentages of population, Iranians are far more educated and worldly. But these differences are minor compared to both people's love of their common literature -- the strongest cultural force in both societies. I don't believe Shiite vs. Sunni to be an important distinction to either people. Whatever their sect, both peoples are keen to minimze Arab cultural influences.

When asked by the BBC what he'd like to do when the war was over, the legendary Ahmad Shah Masoud said he would like to "read Persian poetry and teach in a village". Many Iranians mired in their own struggles against stupidity can well relate to that. If the United States decides to establish a true democracy in Afghanistan, even to improve on its own tarnished image in the region, Iran may not be far behind.

The key to this possibility is if the Afghan people welcome it. Everybody knows that if Afghans refuse hospitality to a foreign force in their land, that force is either defeated or will soon be out of there. If Afghans can negotiate a fair deal for themselves in exchange for contributing to regional stability, then things will improve for the whole region.

I know the most cynical anti-Westerners will argue that a Conoco pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea is just around the corner. Fine! If the toll for transporting Central Asian oil through Afghanistan is peace and prosperity for the local people, maybe that's not such a bad deal as long as Aghans can maintain their own way of life.

After all, no Afghan needs to feel any more exploited for commercial intersts than any one of us living right here in the United States. That's how give-and-take works in this system. This is the Global Economy's version of the Civil Rights movement.

If the people in Afghanistan succeed in creating a democracy, America might well be inclined to try the same carrot in Iraq to solve the nasty mess there. Maybe the people in Iraq don't care for Saddam Hussein any more than the people in Afghanistan cared for the Taliban. And once there are democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq, the map just wouldn't look good if Iran were still a disagreeable Islamic Republic. If it comes to that, Iranians can count on a powerful and generous friend to make the transition from "Islamic Republic" to just plain "Republic".

Moreover, a like-minded, reasonable axis from Afghanistan through Iraq, including Iran, wouldn't hurt the Middle East peace process. Nor would it hurt future bargaining with Central Asian and Asia Minor countries -- not to mention any possible rumblings in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. It makes sense that the United States should capitalize on Afghan's enthusiasm, and build a democracy there.

I encourage every Iranian everywhere to pray for the Afghan people's success in this endeavor. They have suffered far more than us and they deserve a respite. Besides, their success is our relief.

I personally don't think there's been a better opportunity for us to get involved since the 1979 revolution. Iranians could help the process in Afganistan in many ways. There's always charity. Send a container of clothes and goods from your town to Afghanistan. Read the Bonn agreement and contact the players to encourage them to be strong. Send Googoosh to Kabul for a concert (and Herat too). They love her there. Become penpals with an Afghan. Just do something to help and strengthen Iranian ties to Afgans.

A democracy in Afghanistan would put the IRI on notice. If the United States can not establish a democracy in Afghanistan, then they'll have to make deals with the IRI in order to trouble-shoot in the region, as they're probably doing just now. That would keep the Valiye Faghih in power another 20 years. Nobody, except the fundementalists, could possibly benefit from that.

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