Iran may not be far behind
December 10, 2001
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
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
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