Here are a few adages to help you get through this walk down memory lane. One who rules by the sword dies by the sword. Fear what you wish for. Those who forget history are bound to repeat it. Shit happens. Shit happens again. History repeats itself. Have had enough?
It is Friday, November 16, and I am watching the PBS NewsHour, followed by the McLaughlin Group and hear not a word about the turmoil that swallowed the Shah of Iran in 1978-1979. This morning, I unfolded The Boston Globe and saw no mention of the fateful events of 1978-79 that brought forth the theologians to power in Iran. There is nothing in the paper, not even in the editorial page, where often H.D.S. Greenway has an informed and historically grounded opinion piece about changes in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. But then I am expecting too much from a media and pundits who are living in 2007. Man, all that stuff back then in 1978-79 is now ancient history in the mind of a public that cannot remember who was president before Jimmy Carter.
You say, “Jimmy Carter?” “Yes, I do.” Not the Jimmy who builds houses, writes books and goes to other countries to make sure that the ignorant third world people are voting correctly, while someone’s election in the year 2000 here left a lot to be desired. I am talking about the Jimmy Carter who unleashed in 1976-77 the Kennedyesque human rights genie out of the bottle in a fit of American self-righteousness.
The friendly advice that the Kennedy Administration had given to the Shah, a staunch ally of the United States against Communism, was about modernizing the country, the reward for which was continuation of American economic and military aid. Well, the advice – like land reform, nationalization of forests land, profit-sharing for workers, women’s rights – flew in the face of traditional values of a staunch capitalist, feudal patriarchy that would not relent. On January 22, 1963, one Mr. Khomeini denounced the Shah and his reform package. The acrimony continued into June when, as I remember, hostilities broke out between the two camps and a curfew, or martial law, was declared in many cities, while scores upon scores were killed in the streets.
I digress. Back to Jimmy Carter.
A few months after Jimmy’s visit to Tehran, where he toasted the Shah and called Iran “an island of stability,” the country plunged into a sea of turmoil. Carter’s human rights agenda and coddling of the Iranian leftists in the U.S. had emboldened the anti-Shah people in Tehran to take to the streets and demand this and that and the other. Marches ensued. One month after another brought its own black this and black that and red this and red that, while the government kept up the talk about fighting against the unholy alliance of “the red and black.” Ah! Le Rouge and le Noir, now that is a story worth reading. Never mind, please! I digress!
The “black” in those days were the theocratic end of the Iranian political spectrum. The reference was inspired by the color of the black shirt worn in Shi’a religious festivals, the predominant color of women’s black Islamic hijab, the color of the head-kerchief worn by a certain Islamo-Marxist group, and the color of the beard of pseudo-revolutionaries, even of the secular stripe. The reference to “black” was also inspired by the modernists’ view that this lot was about to plunge the country into the Dark Ages. The “red” were the damned Commies who had been a thorn in the side of the Iranian kingship since the 1920s.
It is all of 28 years from the fateful days of the Shah and here we are witnessing yet another debacle of a pro-US regime in Southwest Asia — Pakistan. Whether he is or not, the “opposition” in Pakistan and the Moslem street views Pervez Musharraf as a stooge of the United States. Before I go on with the heavy political stuff, let me pause and point out to the non-Farsi/Persian readers that Pervez is the Persian name Parviz, which comes from parvaz, which means “opened wing, soaring.” Musharraf, on the other hand, means the “welcome one, bringer of honor” in Arabic and Urdu. Musharraf also sounds like it could be a derivative of sharaf, which means “honor, dignity” in Arabic and Urdu. Urdu, like Pakistan, is really Hindi or Indian with the added (or not) benefit of Persian/Iranian influence, wrapped up in the Arabic language of Islam.
Why this digression into Musharraf’s name? Because on Friday night’s NewsHour, the commentator Mark Shield said that Musharraf’s connection to or dependency on the Bush Administration has earned him the moniker “Busharraf.” “That may well be,” I thought to myself, but it is loaded with other implications. In Farsi/Persian and Urdu the term for dishonorable is “bisharaf” and this word easily can be made to sound like “besharraf” in chants – I so can hear it: “Msuharraf, bisharraf!”
Name-calling, especially if it can be made to rhyme like a Jesse Jackson tirade, is a very effective tool in any political chant. In the Middle East, it is a sublime art form: it packs a political jab as potent as a Daumier political cartoon. This is really spooky: Daumier’s first name? Honoré, very akin to Musharraf!
The Shah’s last appointed government was led by a career oppositionist named Shahpur Bakhtiar. Ironically, “shahpur” in Persian means “son of a king”) and “bakhtiar” means “one who brings good fortune.” The opposition that opposed this oppositionist’s national reconciliation (but really, caretaker) government turned his name into the melodic but derisive chant “Bakhtiar, nokar-e bi-ekhtiar,” meaning “Bakhtiar, the servant with no independence/power.” Ironically, the reference to Bakhtiar’s lack of power or independence was not as much a reference to his appointment to the premiership of the Iranian state, but to the perception that he was a lackey of the United States.
The chant of “Bakhtiar, nokar-e bi-ekhtiar” grew even louder and more meaningful after Jimmy Carter in January 1979 stated in a news conference that his Administration supported Bakhtiar’s appointment to head the government in Tehran. The chant of Bakhtiar’s status as a puppet of the U.S. Administration resounded even louder when it was learned in Tehran that one General Robert Huyser from the U.S. had arrived in the country to “stabilize the situation,” as if the country was in the midst of a cafeteria food fight! As Jimmy Carter’s envoy, General Huyser’s sole qualification for the mission to Tehran was that, as deputy commander of the U.S. European Command, he knew many of Iran’s top military people. Ha!
Call it common wisdom, knowledge or anecdotal history – I happen to believe that Huyser’s mission to Tehran was not aimed to “stabilize” the country in favor of the Shah and Bakhtiar’s government but to neutralize the armed forces by telling it to stand down in favor of Mr. Khomeini, who was poised to fly from France to Iran any day.
Parenthetically, after the 1963 melee with the Shah, Mr. Khomeini was arrested and exiled to Iraq, whence he continued covertly with his anti-Shah activities. In 1978, on the Shah’s request, Saddam Hussein exiled Khomeini to France, where overnight he became the darling of every liberal and hyper-liberal coffee klatch in the Western Hemisphere. Even the Iranian singer-diva Gougoush belted out a tune in the honor of she seeing the reflection of Mr. Khomeini’s ponum on the face of the moon.
It is now some 28 years from Huyser’s mission to Tehran. On Friday, November 16, President Bush’s emissary, John Negroponte, arrived in Pakistan to tell Mr. Musharraf what to do in order to save his country from turmoil. Déjà vu allover again! The 1979 Huyser mission in Tehran was to get the Iranian army to stay in one piece by standing down. The fear at the time was that the sophisticated weaponry in the hands of the Iranian forces would find its way into the hands of “enemy” elements (read Palestinians). In Islamabad, Negroponte probably sought to ensure that the Pakistani army stays in one piece so the country’s nuclear arsenal does not end up in “enemy” hands (read, a militant Islamic regime).
Pakistan of 2007 looks a lot like Iran of 1978-79. On Friday night’s edition of NewsHour nothing was eerier that seeing one Benazir Bhutto, fresh from exile, declaring, “Musharraf must go!” On hearing this, I recalled Mr. Khomeini’s calm utterance to the international press gathered in his quarters in France “Shah bayad beravad,” the Shah must go! Like in 1979, when nobody was interested in asking “then what?,” nobody now is asking what would Musharraf’s departure accomplish?
Benazir Bhutto is not a U.S. puppet, be she is being coached an coaxed and used by the Bush Administration to egg on Musharraf either out of office or to force him to truly clamp down on the radical Islamists in Pakistan and in the border areas with Afghanistan. Like the rag-tag “oppositionists” that faced down the Shah in 1978-79, people who oppose Musharraf are secularist who want him to take a harsher stand with the Islamists, Islamists and nationalists who want him to take tougher stand against U.S. meddling in Pakistani (Islamic) affairs, hyper-liberals and pro-democracy opportunists who want more human rights, journalists, and the lawyers, who amazingly, and contrary to Shakespearean edicts and American popular disdain for attorneys, are revered for now as a force for good!
Bhutto is talking to the former prime minister and the other oppositionist in Pakistan in order to forge a grand anti-Musharraf coalition. These forms of coalitions of convenience do not bode well. Once the common enemy is removed the coalition begins to implode, as one faction rises against the other, each thinking it deserves more than the other as if it were the indispensable part of the mass uprising that brought down the leader. In Tehran of 1978-79 the alliance of the un-holies against the Shah also included the mosque and secularist street. At the end, with the army neutralized, the Shah was forced out and in the aftermath internecine struggles the clergy prevailed.
If history has any value as a lesson is because it enables predictions of things to come. A Pakistan without Musharraf has two choices: A takeover by anti-Musharraf forces which will then give way to a radical Islamic regime, or a military coup that will “oust” Musharraf, very much like Turkey’s military when it ousts the civilian government that has gone bad. Mr. Negroponte would have been best advised to have encouraged the latter as an exit strategy for Musharraf.
The question that nags me the most is “Who is behind all this Islamist turmoil in Pakistan?” To answer it, I must ask, “Whom does this situation in Pakistan benefit?” I can think only of Saudi Arabia, who may want to tell Mr. Bush that all this talk about democracy and human rights and “McPolitics” shall cause greater mess, especially in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, than anyone can possibly control locally, much less from afar.
The nightmare scenario for Washington will be for Pakistan to fall into the hands of a radical Islamic regime. That regime will not be like the Taleban regime that briefly governed Afghanistan with the help of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. An Islamic regime in Pakistan, by its very Sunni nature, will command much greater empathy than Iran’s 1979 Shi’a revolutionaries ever could. As a non-Arab Islamic country, Pakistan will challenge Saudi Arabia for the soul of Islam (Note: the majority of Moslems are non-Arab and Sunni).
Do you think India will sit idly by so Pakistan can become a mouse that roars?
If this world is far too complicated for the U.S. to order, then the U.S. should butt out of Musharraf’s and Pakistan’s business. Hajji Bush, I say, please cultivate your own garden! As they say in Southwest Asia, there is a limit to khar-kosdeh-bazi, which in Urdu means, I think, “mind your own sister.”