In my opinion, Iran (as a nation) should declare that it is not nor ever actually was part of the Middle East. Iran is more accurately located in Central Asia.
The Middle East after all is for Arabs (and Israelis) – let them duke it out to death. The Middle East ends eastwards at the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Then everything changes- language, culture, calendar and history. The concept of Iran being in the Middle East is a British invention – much like the term “Arabian Gulf”. It's just way off.
Iran has nothing to gain by participating in Middle East games (politics, sports, and alliances) – in fact Iran has no interest in either supporting the Israelis or the Arabs. Yet, constant association with the Middle East harms Iran – being placed in the same oversight department looking over Iraq, Egypt and Yemen (not only in the U.S. State Department but also Coca-Cola… ).
Iranians are not Arabs. In fact, Iran has much more in common with Afghans and Tajiks than Arabs. Afghans and Tajiks speak farsi – Iran's lingua franca. And in fact, Iranians have much in common with Turkmens and Uzbeks too. There is after all a very large Turkmen minority in northern Iran; and Iranian Turks (ie. Azaris) speak a very similar version of Turkish to Uzbeks and the Azaris in Azarbaijan (which not long ago was actually part of Iran).
Also interestingly, Iranian traditions such as the Iranian solar calendar and important days such as “No-Ruz” or the beginning of spring are important celebrations in Central Asia. On the other hand, Arabs follow a lunar, Islamic calendar.
“Ostan” depicts province or terrain in Farsi. Thus connecting 'Stan' to these nations – such as Uzbekstan, or Tajikestan, or Turkmanestan, or Kazakstan, or Afghanistan or Pakistan… automatically provides a linkage.
Not only language, culture, calendars, anthropology – but also history is another important connection. These areas after-all until only a century or so ago where always connected as provinces under different Iranian Rulers or as part of the Mongolian Empire.
My own great grandparents (from my father's side) were from Georgia then part of Iran until Peter the Great campaigned for that land. My (Iranian) grandmother from my mother's side has Mongolian features. And let's not forget that some of Iran's greatest poets resided in Samarkand (now capital of Tajikestan).
Iran clearly has much more in common with Central Asian nations.
But now there are two very important reasons why we must make formal political links: geographic and economic. Starting with economic considerations, there are substantial untapped hydrocarbon reserves in Central Asia. Iran, has enjoyed or suffered (depending on your point of view) almost a century of substantial involvement with Oil and Natural gas. Central Asian reserves have to be exported to have any value. And these reserves can only be exported through Afghanistan /Pakistan and/or Iran or both. This economic necessity will by itself bring these nations together to design, build and maintain pipelines and transfer hydrocarbons. Interestingly, it would be better for everyone if Iran purchased and used exclusively central Asian oil and natural gas in its heavily populated Northern cities and then exported its own product (since its product is produced near exportable ports) – as part of a transfer plan with these Central Asian nations.
But also, importantly these nations surround the Caspian Sea; and also plan to exploit reserves sitting below the Caspian. This brings about not just a common geographic and economic interest but also very importantly also an environmental interest. These nations must sit together not as economic competitors but as partners in dealing with the very difficult issues of exploiting Caspian Sea reserves. The Caspian Sea must be protected while there is drilling going on. It is a unique environment – with highly salty water balance and important species that can only be found there. The Caspian Sea actually is on the verge of destruction with many species on the verge of extinction.
We therefore see that there is a large group of interests that bring these nations together.
In a world, where nations are increasingly binding together to form supra-national entities such as for example the European Union or African Union. Also, with the break up of the Soviet Union along with reduced Soviet influence, there is an opportunity for a more 'natural' linkage to form among the nations of the central Asian region – based on common interests and the very natural linkages between the people of these nations.
Yes, I am proposing the formation of a Central Asian Union. I am proposing a Union of the “Stans”. A new federal structure. Providing a good neighbor to the very dominant nations of China, Russia, and India. Here is some data worth considering on how such a Union might look like:
Central Asian Union
– Combined GDP: $1,469 Bn+
– Combined Population: 350 Mn+
– Combined Land Area: 8,500 sq km+
– Linkages: Cultural, linguistic, religious and economic … all the way from Iran & Pakistan north to Turkey, Kazakhstan (including Turkemanestan, Uzbekestan, Tajikestan, Azarbaejan).
… … … … … Say goodbye to spam!