Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Twist in the Middle-East Tale

By talking over phone President Obama and Iran’s newly elected President Rouhani may have started to spell the new equations which have the potential of simplifying the extremely complicated geo-politics of middle-east. This historic rapprochement between West and the Iran will have long-term soothing effect on highly volatile situation in post-Arab spring era.

An acrimonious relationship with Iran makes US devote much of its energy in Middle-East to futile activities which do not help any of its long-term strategic goals nor do in any way contribute to global security scenario. George Bush’s inclusion of Iran to “axis of evil” phraseology only complicated and delayed US war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and thereafter Iraq in 2003, a hemmed Iran naturally found itself vulnerable. Washington’s hostile attitude further worsened the situation and allowed radicals in Iran to rise to power.

Iran had a stake in toppling of Taliban regime in Afghanistan which was extremely hostile to Iranian interests. When Taliban came to power in Kabul in 1996, it made all attempts to curtail Iranian influence in Afghanistan. Large scale selective killings of Shias were organized by the Taliban government. Iranian consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif was attacked and ten Iranian diplomats were killed. Iran had to amass 300,000 troops on its border with Afghanistan threatening to punish the Taliban regime.

However, Bush’s axis of evil rhetoric forced Iran to covertly help the Taliban after post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan by US so as to keep US military engaged and stretched. Similar things also transpired in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was Iran’s sworn enemy but after fall of Saddam regime Iran had to initially work at cross-purposes to US to keep US forces at bay. Things stabilized in Iraq only after Washington realized that a head on approach against Iranian clients will not be helpful. Ultimately Iranian covert co-operation in quelling the violence allowed US to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

Withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan which is scheduled next year will bring back things to per-9/11 era. There will be no substantial US military presence either in Iraq or Afghanistan. On the other hand, Iran will be faced with a resurgent Al- Qaeda on its west in Iraq which aims to push that nation into civil war and a hostile Taliban which will try to destabilize Afghanistan staking claims to power in Kabul to its East. All this has serious implications for Iranian interests in the region.

A glimpse of approaching turbulence is already visible. Pakistan’s tribal areas witnessed some of the most ghastly attacks mounted on Shias ever. At the same time, a terrorist group named Jundullah founded by Abdul Malik Rigi, who was a former Taliban commander and operates from Pakistani territory sprung into action after many years and killed sixteen Iranian border guards. In Iraq, Al-Qaeda’s activities are recording an exponential increase.

After UN sponsored chemical weapons deal with Assad regime, Iranian and US priorities are changing fast bringing them into cohesion. Going forward Washington will be increasingly focused on checking resurgence of Al-Qaeda and allied groups in the Islamic world. Similarly, these groups are emerging as greater threats to Iranian interests in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan than the West.

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