Iran’s Continuing Interests in Afghanistan
As noted, Iranian economic interests in Afghanistan are highly prized. The previously noted Afghan–Iranian strategic cooperation agreement facilitates the expansion of trade, commerce, transit, scientific and education exchanges, and tourism—all soft power levers. Iran has long identified the expansion of cross-border trade as one of the pillars of Afghanistan’s own economic growth strategy, helping to promote greater bilateral and regional trade. At present, annual trade between Iran and Afghanistan totals nearly $2 billion, with Iran accounting for about 35–40 percent of exports to Afghanistan.By 2012, Afghanistan was Iran’s fourth-largest destination for the country’s non-oil exports, amounting to nearly $2.874 billion, tripling in value from 2009.
In an effort to undercut Kabul’s traditional economic dependency on Pakistan, Iran granted a 90 percent discount on Iranian tariffs for Afghan trade with the creation of the Chabahar Free Zone Authority in 2004. The port also allocated 20 percent of warehouse space for goods en route to Afghanistan. Yet, given the sanctions against Iran and U.S. pressure on Kabul, it was only eight years later that Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul and his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, signed an agreement guaranteeing Afghan access to the Iranian port. This year, the Afghans reiterated their willingness to negotiate an agreement to increase trade transactions with Iran—as well as India, Central Asia, and Europe—via Chabahar.43 However, due to the reduced chances of having sanctions against Iran reversed, Afghan traders have been very concerned about the delay in completion of the port project.
Iran is also a major player in Afghanistan’s energy sector. According to then-Afghan Commerce Minister Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, Iran provided about 50 percent of the country’s oil imports. With the United States denying Iran waivers, the sanctions against Iranian oil exports pose a rising challenge to Afghanistan given its dependency. However, one sector of Iran’s energy industry is scaling up: electricity exports, which stood at five billion dollars in November 2012. Among its clients are neighboring states including Armenia, Pakistan, Turkey, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In January 2013, Iran and Afghanistan signed an energy cooperation agreement to strengthen their links in the electricity and water sectors. Under this deal, Iran will export more electricity to Afghanistan’s western provinces of Herat, Nimroz, and Farah.
Afghan officials have received monetary support from Tehran—both official and unofficial—for several years. A “bags of cash” controversy in 2010 saw Karzai admitting to having received direct cash payments in suitcases amounting to two million dollars per year, from perhaps as early as 2003. Between 2002 and 2007, a period considered by some Iranian officials to be the golden era of its financial support, Iran committed $560 million to Afghanistan. Based on the Afghanistan Donor Assistance Database data, the country has pledged a total of $900 million in aid for the reconstruction of Afghanistan in a series of donor conferences and supplemental pledges for 2002–13. About $500 million has been disbursed to date. The funds have mostly gone to infrastructure projects including roads and bridges in western Afghanistan that feed into Iran’s regional integration strategy. Iran is working to improve the “Golden Transit Route,” a 125-kilometer road running from Iran’s Dogharoun region to Herat at a cost of $43 million; it is building a 176-kilometer railroad from Iran to Herat; and it has announced plans to invest $75 million in the construction of the Afghan part of the Khaf-Herat railway line, aimed to connect the country to eastern Iran. It also plans to upgrade the transit bridges over the Helmand and Parian rivers, and to construct a tax-free trade route originating from Chabahar to the southwestern border post of Malik in Afghanistan and the cities of Kandahar and Kabul.
The western Afghan province of Herat, bordering Iran, lends itself as a case study to assess Iran’s strategic depth and the reach of its economic and information instruments. Herat lies at the heart of Iran’s “economic sphere of influence” in Afghanistan and plays the role of a convenient “buffer zone.” Reflecting the importance of Herat, Iran has concentrated the bulk of its investments here since 2001 including infrastructure projects, road and bridge construction, education, agriculture, power generation, and telecommunication projects. The Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry also established a joint Iran–Afghan chamber of commerce in Herat in 2009.
Patriarchal Accommodations: Women’s Mobility and Policies of Gender Difference from Urban Iran
Bus segregation in Tehran operated as a patriarchal accommodation. On one hand, it extended gender difference; on the other, it provided the conditions for women, who were hesitant to ride “mixed” public transportation for religious or safety reasons, to adapt to these broader political and eco- nomic shifts. Most Iranian women—including both those who were religiously observant and those who were secular—welcomed the gender separation on buses. Often, religiously observant women worried about their ￼purity, and gender-segregated buses enabled them to observe religious norms that forbid male–female contact. Meanwhile, many secular women were con- cerned about a comfortable, harassment-free ride.
Ironically, by providing a religiously appropriate and safe space for women in the public sphere, segregation facilitated their mobility across the city (see also Amir-Ebrahimi 2006). The separate bus space also removed the hassle of competition with men over space.”
The consequences of the UBCT’s patriarchal accommodation were that by the mid-1990s far more women rode buses; furthermore, they developed a sense of entitlement to the women’s section, demanding even more segre- gated bus space. Bus segregation and women’s increasing presence in public ￼space fueled each other. Thanks to segregation, more women began riding buses. As they did, they demanded additional segregated bus space, and the UBCT expanded its gender segregation plan, extending women’s sections to half of the bus, launching women-only buses, and hiring women bus drivers for the first time. In the 1990s, Zan-e Rooz magazines—where women had once complained about the unwarranted and illegitimate physical contact with men—were now filled with complaints about the quantity and quality of gender-segregated spaces allocated to them.
For instance, in 1996, a female government employee wrote to the magazine: “When we [women] manage to get on the bus, we see men sitting in our sections. So, women, in a section that’s theirs, have to stand on their feet” (Zan-e Rooz, May 11, 1996). In this framing, men’s presence now represented a threat not to women’s purity or safety but rather to their sense of entitlement to the space. By the late 1990s, women were formulating men’s intrusion into the women’s section as a violation of “women’s rights.”
(Source : jce.sagepub.com)
An other view of Iran
(Source : dailyfresher.com)
Jewish Hospital a Fixture in Tehran
'I speak English, I pray in Hebrew, but I think in Persian,” said Dr. Morsadegh, a surgeon who is also a member of Parliament. “I am Iranian. Iranian-Jewish.”
Many were surprised last week when the government of President Hassan Rouhani donated $400,000 to the Dr. Sapir Hospital, but Dr. Morsadegh was not among them.
“We Jews are a part of Iran’s history,” he said. “What is important is that Mr. Rouhani makes big news out of supporting us. He is showing that we, as a religious minority, are part of this country, too.”
Situated on Mostafa Khomeini Street — named for the son of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini — the hospital sits across from the Imam Reza Seminary school, one of the oldest Shiite seminaries in Tehran. White-turbaned clerics pass by, talking in hushed tones with their students. Though the hospital might seem out of place, local people do not seem to think so.
(Source : The New York Times)
Picturing the Iranian Everyday: An Interview with the Photographers Behind “Humans of Tehran”
It seems that just about every other week another Western journalist “discovers” Iran and its “manically welcoming” people (actual quote), explaining to the world for the fifty-millionth time that contrary to the audience’s assumptions, Iran is a pretty nice place to visit. These articles are utterly predictable in content, mentioning a few stereotypical images (Mullahs! Hijab! Hostages!) before offering a brief slideshow of Isfahan, Persepolis, a mountain village or two, and some young women in North Tehran caked in makeup to reveal the country foreign travelers might discover if they venture “behind the veil.”
My personal reaction to these articles is, admittedly, conflicted. On one hand, given the horrific, sensationalist, and patently untrue myths the Western media systematically perpetuates about Iran and Iranians, a small part of me wells with joy at the opportunity to show Americans that in fact Iranians might be human as well. The proof of our humanity, of course, is that some brave, [white] CNN journalist or Lonely Planet hippie deigned to visit our country for a week and realized that Iran is a pretty decent place. “Look, look,” my heart almost shouts, “not all white people are afraid of us!”
This joy, however, is always tempered by the utter annoyance and disgust I feel at the ridiculousness of needing to prove our humanity to anyone. These projects often reek of an almost 19th century colonial obsession with discovering the “real Iran” and reducing a nation of 70-some-million people to a backpacker’s week-long vacation. These projects are primarily undertaken by Westerners for Westerners, bestowing upon the white [and generally male] gaze a certain universality and objectivity that the narratives of the “natives” never achieve.
These photographers privilege, over and over again, Western visions of Iran, while Iranian photographers themselves are rarely if ever predominantly featured in the same way.
(Source : ajammc.com)
U.S. and Iran Face Common Enemies in Mideast Strife
While the two governments quietly continue to pursue their often conflicting interests, they are being drawn together by their mutual opposition to an international movement of young Sunni fighters, who with their pickup trucks and Kalashnikovs are raising the black flag of Al Qaeda along sectarian fault lines in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.
“It is clear we are increasingly reaching common ground with the Americans,” said one of them, Aziz Shahmohammadi, a former adviser to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. “No country should have an eternal enemy, neither we nor the United States.”
With Iran as an island of stability in a region plagued by violent protests, sectarian clashes and suicide bombers, there are not that many options left for Washington, experts here say.
“We face the same enemy, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” said Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, a prominent Iranian reformist journalist who closely follows the Arab world. He recalled how Iranian intelligence operatives gave reliable information to American Special Forces troops battling Iran’s enemy, the Afghan Taliban, in 2001.
“Now extremists are once again threatening our security, and as in 2001, both countries will cooperate with each other in Iraq, and potentially elsewhere, too,” Mr. Shamsolvaezin said. “This is the beginning of regional cooperation.”
(Source : The New York Times)
Iran & South Asia: Pakistan’s Delicate Balancing Act
Islamabad generally supports Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear energy program. Most Pakistanis find fault with the West’s approach to the Iranian nuclear dispute.
But Islamabad would most likely oppose Tehran weaponizing its nuclear program. Pakistan’s regional clout would likely wane if another one of its four neighbors — in addition to China and India— attained nuclear weapons. Pakistan denies widespread suspicions that Saudi Arabia may be interested in receiving assistance in the nuclear field or with some form of defense against a future Iranian nuclear weapons capability. Islamabad does not want to get embroiled in a wider conflict and would thus want to avoid any development that could escalate the situation.
At the same time, Pakistan would almost certainly not condone an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. A U.S. or Israeli strike could lead to increased turbulence on Pakistan’s southwestern border. In short, Islamabad is in an unenviable position. It is caught in the middle and does not want to upset Washington, Riyadh or Tehran.
(Source : iranprimer.usip.org)
Impact of Iran-US deal on South Asia
The nervousness of the Arab world could mean that these states could begin to look at other options or cultivate alternatives to balance out Iran. In any case, the Arab states are getting increasingly nervous with the idea of being abandoned by the US. The manner in which Hosni Mubarak was abandoned by Washington or the fact that the US and the Western world at large will have reduced dependence on Middle Eastern oil reserves may result in various uncomfortable scenarios. One situation, which is likely to have disastrous consequences for South Asia in particular, pertains to the Arab engagement with the various non-state actors, particularly those that offer to propagate a religious ideology deemed friendly by the Arab world.
Reportedly, the number of Saudis engaged in the Syrian conflict has increased. These non-state actors may not limit themselves just to Syria but will also find their way into South Asia, especially if they find hosting agents in the form of proxies that seem to be planning to expand their options in Afghanistan and Pakistan after the US pullout from Kabul in 2014. Although there appears to be some form of tacit agreement between the US and Pakistan to eliminate some proxies, it is still not clear if what we are looking at is a consensus on complete elimination of all kinds of violent non-state actors. The continuation of any strategic engagement in South Asia between the state and non-state actors will encourage an environment which will attract a lot of frustrated elements from the Arab world. Indeed, traction towards jihad does echo through higher educational institutions of some of the Arab states.
The Iran-Saudi Cold War never bode well for South Asia and its continuation will be even more disastrous. Though the sectarian ideological rift has spread, it is still not a popular agenda, at least not as popular as some other causes. For instance, the sectarian violence on its own is still not a proverbial ‘crowd-pulling’ agenda or something that would help raise funds and human resources. An issue like Kashmir, water or India continues to be more attractive. This is the case because the desire for peace has not materialised into something concrete and policymakers have been unable to generate a positive propaganda such as the impact of economic cooperation and similar issues. Under the circumstances, we can continue to have a condition where violent extremist NGOs will continue to use the India factor to draw resources to be diverted towards other issues such as sectarian violence. Many analysts tend to make separate categories for groups that engage in sectarian violence versus those that use Kashmir as a core agenda or others that fight in Afghanistan. Such categories only apply as far as marketing a particular organisation is concerned. Militant organisations that fight in India have fought in Afghanistan as well and subscribe to a sectarian agenda too. These lines will sadly get fuzzy in the coming months or years.
The US-Iran Deal and the Outcome
The US-Iran secret parleys began some time in 2011. Initially, it was about agreeing to talk, where and who will meet. John Kerry as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had started the spade work and visited Oman seeking assistance from Sultan Qaboos. In June 2013, Hassan Rouhani was elected President of Iran and assumed office in August. Two meetings took place in Muscat that month, which was communicated by President Obama to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when they met on September 30th in the White House. This, of course, was not news for Netanyahu as he was already informed by the Saudis of the parleys. When the French foreign minister Laurent Fabius stood in the way of a deal in the last but one meeting in Geneva, it showed his irritation that crucial negotiations were taking place elsewhere and the foreign ministers were presented with solutions already arrived at. But, France could only show irritation and not prevent a deal.
The deal might appear to be lopsided as Iran is getting only minimal relief from sanctions while it has made major concessions. It is still not known what the road ahead is. What, however, is clear is that if Iran fulfills what it has agreed then there will be no case for not lifting the sanctions. The public debate between the US and Iran over its right to enrichment is only meant for public consumption. The deal does say that Iran should not enrich beyond 5 per cent. In any case, the Security Council resolutions directing Iran to cease enrichment of uranium are deeply flawed. Iran is a signatory to the NPT which does assert the right to peaceful use of nuclear technology to every signatory state. It is elementary physics that enrichment up to a point is necessary for industrial and research purposes. It is only because Iran was treated as a pariah state that the US-dominated Security Council passed those untenable resolutions.
For Saudi Arabia the turn of events are upsetting. Its opposition to any deal, short of total surrender by Iran, was repeatedly conveyed to the US. How will the US-Saudi relations be affected by the deal? Saudi Arabia is passing through a difficult period of time with an aging ruler and a leadership crisis. The refusal to take the Security Council seat was an indication of the discord within the House of Sa’ud. Riyad has also been angry over Washington for not having taken military action on Syria. If the deal works and if the sanctions are lifted, Iran’s regional clout will increase at the cost of Saudi Arabia. Already there are reports about Saudi Arabia getting a nuclear weapon from Pakistan if Iran develops one. However, there is no reason to believe that the US will dump Saudi Arabia and build up Iran as its central ally in the region. If the Saudi-Iran confrontation escalates, the US might do some mediation and peacekeeping. Further, it can also be expected that if the deal helps to broaden and strengthen the relations with Iran, the US will significantly increase its clout in the region.
As regards Israel, its security is not going to be compromised by the deal. Logically, if Iran is prevented from making a bomb, Israel should feel secure. Therefore, there is an apparent contradiction in Israel’s public stand. Not to forget, the US is always there to guarantee Israel’s security. But Israel’s ability to control and manipulate US policy through the pro-Israeli lobby has been seriously damaged. Some Republicans and even Democrats might refuse to lift the sanctions but once Iran delivers, it will be difficult to make out a case for continuing with the sanctions.
(Source : idsa.in)
Lifting the Siege on Iran
Differing interpretations are the stuff of diplomatic engagement. No power wants to say that it has been overwhelmed in the negotiations by another power – all those who leave the deal with their signatures on the paper would like to make the most of what they signed. A factual look at the deal indicates that Iran got what it had always wanted, namely, an implicit right to enrich uranium for its civilian nuclear programme, and that the West got what it always wanted, namely, a guarantee that Iran would not move towards a military nuclear programme (something Iran has always denied). In other words, and after all those visits to Geneva, we are back to the 1990s when this dispute began to escalate, and we are back to a discussion about the procedures of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) allowances for nuclear energy and for surveillance against nuclear weaponisation. It tells you something about the stand-off over Iran that it was never about the substance of nuclear energy-weapons and always about geopolitical power in and around Iran.
By 2003, the US government had overthrown two of Iran’s historical enemies (the Taliban and the Ba’ath regime of Saddam Hussein) and removed the pressure on Iran’s two most tense borders (with Afghanistan and Iraq). Iran’s reform-oriented government led by Mohammed Khatami opened a dialogue through a road map that came to Washington via the Swiss Interest Section in Tehran. Swiss Ambassador Tim Guldimann sent a note along with the road map pointing out that the Iranians were eager for a deal then but they feared that “a lack of trust in the US imposes on them to proceed very carefully and very confidentially”. Guldimann said he “got the clear impression that there is a strong will of the regime to tackle the problem with the US now”. Iran’s UN ambassador at the time was Javid Zarif, whose draft road map from 2003 reads very much like the agreement of 2013, including the section on “full transparency for security that there are no Iranian endeavours to develop or possess Weapons of Mass Destruction, full cooperation with IAEA”. The Bush administration tossed the note in the trash, set up a confrontation with Iran in the IAEA (assisted by India in its two votes of 2005), encouraged Iranian hard-liners to build up their nuclear capacity as an insurance against an attack (as North Korea had done, whereas Iraq had not) and drew sustenance from the kind of Punch and Judy politics that followed with Ahmadinejad, Netanyahu and Bush – caricatures of testosterone politics.
Iran’s two other historic enemies – Saudi Arabia and Israel – have not changed their stance vis-à-vis Tehran. For them, the destruction of the Iranian regime is their policy, a goal that today recedes further into the horizon. Over the course of these four decades, Iran has become an important political actor in its region – not just through a politics of sectarianism (as a political centre of Shi’ism) but also through its energy diplomacy and its resolute posture against US (and other Western) intervention. As the US tries to extricate itself from its two failed wars (Afghanistan and Iraq), Iran has emerged as one of the main political forces that could provide the basis for stability. Any post-US Afghan political settlement will require Iranian involvement – not only because of the close ties between western Afghanistan and Iran but also because half of Afghanistan’s oil comes from Iran and the pipeline agreements with Pakistan, India and central Asia would require Afghan participation. Iranian diplomacy and power will also be crucial to any policy in Syria, where the civil war has tilted in large part to favour Iran’s ally, the regime of Bashar al-Assad. There will be no possibility of any kind of political deal in Syria without Iran’s diplomatic involvement, one that is far more influential in Damascus than that of Russia. Washington is aware of these factors.
In 2003, Bush assumed that the US military force would tilt the balance of forces in west Asia towards the US. Things unravelled very quickly. The Arab Spring, which has a much longer history of internal struggles in the various Arab countries, is nonetheless drawn from considerable popular anger against the undemocratic regimes that collaborated with the West. By the time Obama came to office in 2009, US power in the region had declined considerably – its inability to force the issue in Syria is not just a mark of the complexity of geopolitics but also of the weakened state of US influence. US allies in west Asia – Saudi Arabia and Israel – are of course more prone to create instability in the region than to bring peace. If anything it is Iran that will be able to manage some of the deep crises in the region. Out of weakness – political and economic – come the P5+1 to the table in Geneva. The bluster had worn off. The language of ultimatums and military force seemed anachronistic. The Iranians cleverly have Zarif, the former UN ambassador, as their foreign minister – and he brought his long-term memory of previous attempts to the table as well as his genial demeanour. It was hard to caricature Zarif as the scowling mullah, not with Zarif and his boss, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani conducting clever Twitter diplomacy for the world’s press. The advantage was always with Iran.
(Source : epw.in)
The Iran Nuclear Deal: Rewriting the Middle East Map
What worries opponents of the nuclear deal like Israel and Saudi Arabia most is the potential transformation of Iran from a game spoiler into a constructive player. The nuclear deal removes the Islamic republic as the foremost perceived threat to the national security of Israel and Saudi Arabia. For Israel, this risks peace with the Palestinians reclaiming its position at the top of the agenda, making it more difficult for the Israelis to evade the painful steps needed to end a conflict that is nearing its centennial anniversary.
For Saudi Arabia, it complicates its efforts to fuel regional sectarianism, deflect calls for equitable treatment of its Shiite minority as well as for greater transparency and accountability, and establish itself as the region’s unrivalled leader.
Nowhere is that likely to be more evident than in Iranian policy towards Syria. Contrary to perception and what Saudi Arabia and its allies would like the world to believe, Iranian-Syrian relations are not based on sectarianaffinity but on common interests stemming from international isolation. That reality changes as Iran rejoins the international community.
(Source : rsis.edu.sg)
A few things that came out of the US- Iran nuclear deal
- Europe is largely, useless, ineffective and out of touch when it comes to diplomacy in the Middle East. The US treats Europeans like little, cute puppies, while countries like Iran like to deal directly with the US.
- American policy in the Middle East is not drive by Israel or Saudi Arabia. If the US wants, it can shove aside these two countries at any given moment.
- The US wants to satisfy its ego; and in doing so, it will only conclude deals with a country like Iran if it feels in control. Previously, the US had rejected similar deals with Iran.
On Balance, A Good Deal For Israel
Are the Israelis simply opposed to any deal?
The short answer is no. Most Israelis would far prefer a deal that would truly constrain Iranian progress to a military strike, certainly one that Israel had to carry out on its own. And yet the Israeli leadership, especially under Netanyahu, is wary of any deal short of their maximum demands, a full dismantling of Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
Moreover, Israel sees itself as the necessary “bad cop” in these negotiations, tasked with bettering the terms of any deal, even at the cost of appearing intransigent. Israel in this view provides the radical flank for the world powers, allowing them to harden their stance. Israel’s frequent warnings of a potential attack on Iran’s nuclear sites might be viewed through this lens as well, as I argued here. What the Saudis do privately and through thinly-veiled diplomatic steps, Israel must undertake publicly, many feel.
Indeed, one might argue that the barrage of unfettered Israeli criticism two weeks ago may have helped shape the outcome today; that without Israel’s alarm, France and other may not have rallied to toughen the terms. Whether or not this is the case — and this depends on the precise details of the negotiations, about which we do not know much at present — Israel might have opted to declare victory today.
(Source : brookings.edu)
In Iran, Mainly Praise for Nuclear Deal as a Good First Step
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been working for some time to engineer a way out of the economic and diplomatic quagmire of sanctions.
Ayatollah Khamenei had spoken of negotiating directly with “the great Satan,” the Iranian ideological label for the United States, as long ago as March, three months before Mr. Rouhani was elected president promising better relations with the West. “I am not opposed,” Ayatollah Khamenei said on the subject during his annual address on the first day of the Iranian year, March 21. “But first the Americans must change their hostility towards Iran.”
Ayatollah Khamenei apparently allowed a group of Iranian diplomats to begin secret preparatory talks with American officials in Oman, according to an Associated Press report citing American officials.
Noting the long friendship between Ayatollah Khamenei and Mr. Rouhani, a career diplomat, Mr. Mohebbian said that “nobody is better suited to bring Iran back to the world community than Mr. Rouhani.” He compared the handling of the talks to a construction project, with Ayatollah Khamenei as the architect and Mr. Rouhani as the contractor executing the design. “The leader has shaped this situation and paved the way for Mr. Rouhani to be the right person at the right time,” Mr. Mohebbian said
Ayatollah Khamenei said in March that “the Americans constantly send us messages, telling us they are sincere.” Though the leader dismissed them in his speech as a public relations tactic, Mr. Mohebbian said, letters that Mr. Obama had sent to Ayatollah Khamenei “created the start of a better atmosphere,” and Ayatollah Khamenei responded.
(Source : The New York Times)
What the US and Iran have agreed on just now was reachable long before, but the reason why it didn’t was American hubris and the fact that Obama also had in mind getting elected for a second term. As many of us had pointed out before, the US had placed sanctions on Iran not because they were effective in changing Iran’s behaviour, but because they purely and simply portrayed American strength. America’s animosity towards Iran was always ideological.