[Marxism] Veteran India Diplomat says US is waging terrorist war in Iran

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Feb 25 09:11:41 MST 2007

By M.K. Bhadrakumar 

Asia Times Online
February 24, 2007 


In a rare public criticism of Pakistan, the *Tehran Times* commented last
week that an exclusive Islamabad-Washington nexus is at work manipulating
the Afghan situation. The daily, which reflects official Iranian thinking,
spelled out something that others perhaps knew already but were afraid to
talk about publicly. 

All the same, the commentary gave a candid Iranian insight into the state of
play in Afghanistan. It estimated that without a comprehensive rethink of
strategy aimed at addressing the problems of weak political institutions,
misgovernance, corruption, warlordism, tardy reconstruction, drug
trafficking and attendant mafia, and excesses by the coalition forces, the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) couldn't possibly hope to get
anywhere near on top of the crisis in Afghanistan. 

The commentary pointed a finger at Pakistan's training the Taliban and
providing them with "logistical and political support." It highlighted that
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who visited Islamabad recently,
chose to sidestep the issue and instead bonded with President General Pervez
Musharraf. This is because Washington's priority -- that the "new cold war"
objective of NATO is to establish a long-term presence in the region -- can
be realized only with Musharraf's cooperation. 

The Iranian outburst was, conceivably, prompted by the spurt of trans-border
terrorism inside Iran's Sistan-Balochistan province, which borders Pakistan.
Ten days ago, a militant group called Jundallah killed 11 members of Iran's
elite Revolutionary Guards in an attack in the city center of Zahedan.
Iranian state media reported that the attack was part of U.S. plans to
provoke ethnic and religious violence in Iran. Balochs are Sunnis numbering
about 1.5 million out of Iran's 70 million predominantly Shi'ite population.

Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi alleged that in the recent
past, U.S. intelligence operatives in Afghanistan had been meeting and
coordinating with Iranian militants, apart from encouraging the smuggling of
drugs into Iran from Afghanistan. He said the U.S. operatives were working
to create Shi'ite-Sunni strife within Iran. 

American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has copiously written about
recent U.S. covert operations inside Iran. With reference to the incidents
in Zahedan, Stratfor, a think-tank with close connections to the U.S.
military and security establishment, commented that the Jundallah militants
are receiving a "boost" from Western intelligence agencies. Stratfor said,
"The U.S.-Iranian standoff has reached a high level of intensity . . . a
covert war [is] being played out . . . the United States has likely ramped
up support for Iran's oppressed minorities in an attempt to push the Iranian
regime toward a negotiated settlement over Iraq." 

Iran is fast joining ranks with India and Afghanistan as a victim of
trans-border violence perpetrated by irredentist elements crossing over from
Pakistan. Tehran, too, will probably face an existential dilemma as to
whether or not such acts of terrorism are taking place with the knowledge of
Musharraf and, more importantly, whether or not Musharraf is capable of
doing anything about the situation. 

Iran, perhaps, is somewhat better placed than India or Afghanistan to
resolve this dilemma, since it is the U.S. (and not Pakistan) that is
sponsoring the trans-border terrorism. And what could Musharraf do about
U.S. activities on Pakistani soil even if he wanted to? The Iranians seem to
have sized up Musharraf's predicament. 

A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Tehran, while announcing last Sunday that
the Pakistani ambassador to Iran was being summoned to receive a démarche
over the Zahedan incident, also qualified that it was Iran's belief that the
Pakistani government as such couldn't be party to the creation of such
"insecurities" on the Pakistan-Iran border region. 

Indeed, Tehran is used to the U.S. stratagem. Sponsoring terrorist
activities inside Iran has been a consistent feature of U.S. regional policy
over the past quarter century. Tehran seems to have anticipated the current
wave. Last May, in a nationwide television address, President Mahmud
Ahmadinejad accused Iran's "enemies" of stoking the fires of ethnic tensions
within Iran. He vowed that the Iranian nation would "destroy the enemy

A Washington conference last year brought together representatives of
Iranian Kurdish, Balochi, Ahvazi, Turkmen, and Azeri organizations with the
aim of forming a united front against the Tehran regime. An influential U.S.
think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), went a step further and
prepared a report from the neo-conservative perspective on what a
Yugoslavia-like federated Iran would look like. 

John Bradley, an author on the Persian Gulf, has written in the current
issue of the Washington Quarterly magazine that Balochistan province is
"particularly crucial for Iran's national security as it borders Sunni
Pakistan and U.S.-occupied Afghanistan . . . In fact, the Sunni Balochi
resistance could prove valuable to Western intelligence agencies with an
interest in destabilizing the hardline regime in Tehran." 

Bradley added, "The United States maintained close contacts with the
Balochis till 2001, at which point it withdrew support when Tehran promised
to repatriate any U.S. airmen who had to land in Iran as a result of damage
sustained in combat operations in Afghanistan. These contacts could be
revived to sow turmoil in Iran's southeastern province and work against the
ruling regime." 

Bradley revealed that U.S. policymakers are taking a great interest lately
in Iran's internal ethnic politics, "focusing on their possible impact on
the Iranian regime's long-term stability as well as impact on its short-term
domestic and foreign policy choices." He specifically cited a classified
research project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense that is
examining the depth and nature of ethnic grievances in Iran's plural

"The Pentagon is especially interested in whether Iran is prone to a violent
fragmentation along the same kinds of fault lines that are splitting Iraq
and that helped to tear apart the Soviet Union with the collapse of
communism," Bradley wrote. 

The U.S. administration asked Congress for US$75 million last year for
promoting "democratic change" within Iran. But the main drawback for U.S.
policy is that with the possible exception of the Kurds, none of Iran's
ethnic minorities is seeking to secede from the Iranian state. Also, it is
not a situation where ethnic minorities are subjected to persecution or
discrimination in Iran. The majority Persian community and ethnic minorities
alike feel the alienation endemic to the problem of poverty, economic
deprivation, misgovernance, corruption, and lawlessness. 

Indeed, the U.S. policy to light the fire of ethnic and sectarian strife
could well end up creating an "arc of instability" stretching from Iraq to
Pakistan and Afghanistan. Even right-wing Iranian exile Amir Taheri, who is
usually a strong backer of the Bush administration's interventionist policy
in the Middle East, has warned that although fanning the flames of ethnic
unrest and resentment is not difficult and that a Yugoslavia-like breakup
scenario might hasten the demise of the Iranian regime, it could also
"unleash much darker forces of nationalism and religious zealotry that could
plunge the entire region into years, even decades, of bloody crisis." 

The irony is that Afghanistan is being put to use as a launch pad by the
U.S. for sponsoring terrorism directed against Iran, when the raison d'être
of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan during the past five years has been
for the stated purpose of fighting a "war on terrorism." Besides, Iranian
cooperation at a practical level went a long way in facilitating the U.S.
invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Even Iran's detractors would admit that
during the past five years, Tehran has followed a policy of
good-neighborliness toward the Kabul government, no matter Washington's
dominance over President Hamid Karzai. In fact, Iran figures as a major
donor country contributing to Afghanistan's reconstruction. 

>From this perspective, U.S. President George W. Bush's speech at an AEI
function on February 15 outlining his new Afghan strategy assumes great
importance. The fact that Bush chose a citadel of neoconservatism to unveil
the "top-to-bottom review" of his new Afghan strategy was symbolic. In
essence, Bush underlined the imperative of a long-term Western military
presence in Afghanistan. There was a triumphalism in Bush's tone that he
brought NATO into Afghanistan -- as if that was a strategy by itself. He
couldn't hide his glee that NATO had been brought by the scruff of its neck
into the Hindu Kush -- where it was going to slouch along the soft
underbelly of Russia and China for the foreseeable future. 

Bush summed up his sense of achievement: "Isn't it interesting that NATO is
now in Afghanistan? I suspect 20 years ago if a president stood in front of
the AEI and said, 'I'll make a prediction to you that NATO will be a force
for freedom and peace outside of Europe,' you probably never would have
invited the person back. Today, NATO is in Afghanistan." 

In his entire speech, Bush didn't refer even once to the role of the United
Nations in Afghanistan. Also, Bush's speech completely sidestepped the
urgent need to pressure Pakistan to clamp down on the Taliban. Actually,
Bush ended up praising Musharraf's "frontier strategy" in the tribal
agencies. To be sure, the *Tehran Times* was right in concluding that
Washington, with the "cooperation of regional powers like Pakistan," is
realizing the long-term NATO military presence in Afghanistan. 

Soon after Bush spoke at the AEI, spin-doctors in Washington began spreading
word in select media that al-Qaeda was back in business in the Pakistani
tribal areas. Self-styled counter-terrorism officials in Washington who
refused to be named will now have us believe that the al-Qaeda "leadership
command and control is robust" and "the chain of command has been

As the *New York Times* put it, "Until recently, the Bush administration had
described Osama bin Laden and [Ayman] al-Zawahri as detached from their
followers and cut off from operational control of al-Qaeda." But all of a
sudden the picture has changed. The daily said, "The United States has
identified several new al-Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one
that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets
beyond Afghanistan [emphasis added]. 

"U.S. analysts said recent intelligence showed that the compounds functioned
under a loose command structure and were operated by groups of Arab,
Pakistani, and Afghan militants, allied with al-Qaeda." 

In other words, the "war on terror" in Afghanistan has come full circle. A
few things stand out. First, as Bush pithily summed up, Musharraf "is an
ally in this war on terror and it's in our interest to support him in
fighting the extremists." The restoration of democracy in Pakistan will have
to wait. Second, the U.S. and NATO military occupation of Afghanistan is for
the long haul. The specter of al-Qaeda's resurgence is sufficient to justify
it. Third, the U.S. military presence in the Central Asian region will also
continue for the foreseeable future, no matter what Russia or China feels
about it. 

Fourth, regional powers must appreciate that it is the United States that
stands between them and the deluge of Islamic extremism. They must therefore
cooperate with the U.S. (and NATO) and trust Washington to represent their
best interests in the devilishly obscure Pakistani tribal areas. Finally,
this is a long-term ideological struggle -- freedom and democracy versus
extremism and obscurantism. And wherever there is "democracy deficit" -- be
it oil-rich Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, or Turkmenistan -- the U.S. has a right
to intervene. 

Meanwhile, what does Tehran do about the Zahedan incident? Does it retaliate
against NATO in Afghanistan? Should it hold Musharraf accountable for the
covert U.S. operations staged from Pakistani soil? In chess, this is called
a classic zugzwang -- having to choose between two bad options. 

--M.K. Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service
for more than 29 years, with postings including ambassador to Uzbekistan
(1995-98) and to Turkey (1998-2001).

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