That this columnist is not an admirer of Ayatollah Khomeini is not a secret. Nor is it entirely unknown that in his very first lecture to students in Teheran almost a decade ago (at the Shahid Behesti University), he made explicit the fact that he was a friend of both the US as well as Israel, and that those wishing to leave the hall as a consequence were welcome to do so. In a sign of the strength of Iranian civilisation — where the practice of debate has originated millennia ago — none did, and the talk (on the importance of secularism) was listened to with attention. Hence, it was a surprise to receive an invitation from the Habilian Foundation to participate in the Second Congress of 17,000 Terror Victims in Iran, in Teheran this week. After the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Iranian embassy in Delhi took all of ten seconds practically on the day of departure to issue a visa for the spouse of this columnist, the last excuse for non-participation ended, as did another of the many precooked conceptions about 2015 Iran, such as that its bureaucracy was almost as cumbersome as the world’s worst (after Zimbabwe and North Korea), India’s. Certainly, Iran has not in full measure been friendly to the US or to Israel, but what sometimes gets forgotten is that this is a country whose government has faced an existential threat from the US, Israel and the EU for three decades. The tensions began after the takeover of the US embassy in Teheran in 1979 by students angry at the asylum given through Henry Kissinger in the world’s biggest superpower. It did not help that those working in the embassy were held for nearly a year and a half, or that Iranian television lingered almost daily on scenes of their being interrogated by youths who apparently never went to Charm School.
Given the attempt to destroy its system as comprehensively as Saddan Hussein’s or Muammar Gaddafi’s was years later, it is a wonder that Iran remains a peaceful country in a zone of chaos. But for the efficacy of the security services in Iran, the country would long back have resembled Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Syria and other countries, which the US, the UK and other NATO powers have sought to “improve” through the use of the military. Contrast the Iranian policy (of providing substantial protection to its key personnel) with India, where too a large number of those associated with the nuclear programme have died in opaque circumstances, but have been ignored by a government machinery which sees such a spike in deaths as routine. Perhaps it is a blessing that PMs such as A.B. Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh used to indulge US dictates, for if we had been covertly or otherwise attacked by a country less dysfunctional than Pakistan, our governance system would have folded up. Among the “freedom fighters” the US and its allies in the anti-Iran crusade back are organisations such as Mujahideen-e-Khalq and Jundullah, who share the Al Qaeda belief that the most effective method of persuasion is to kill as many innocents as possible, in Iran’s case about 17,000, who are remembered in that country as much as such victims of terrorism have been forgotten in India.
In a world where ultra-Wahhabi terror groups have become a security nightmare across continents, Iran is as indispensable an ally as the USSR was against Hitler.
It must be said that although most at the conference saw the US, Israel and some EU countries in less than flattering terms, there was no effort whatsoever to silence the few (such as this columnist, and interestingly, Hussein Shahid from Pakistan), who spoke in warm terms of these foes of Iran. For the sake of fairness, it must be said that arguments supporting India’s policy of friendship with Iran are usually listened to in Washington with a degree of understanding, if not agreement, although there exists a fringe which sees any stance less than hostile to Iran than that of Benjamin Netanyahu or Dick Cheney as “selling out to the mullahs”. Fortunately for the globe, President Barack Obama does not agree with such a duo, and with good reason. In a world where ultra-Wahhabi terror groups have become a security nightmare across continents, Iran is as indispensable an ally as the USSR was against Hitler. Had some of today’s leaders been in office during the 1940s, the US and the UK would have refused to give Moscow the material which enabled the Russian people to overcome the Nazis. These days, it is the Iranian formations that are proving the most deadly against ISIS in the field, which is why in the emerging coalition of countries — hopefully including India — that will get formed to fight ISIS on the ground, Iran is indispensable. The nuclear agreement has led to a change in the atmosphere of Teheran, from disquiet five years ago to hope. Sanctions and isolation help the extremes and choke the middle, which is the very segment which needs to be encouraged in order to ensure moderate policies, hence it is to be welcomed that this time around, unlike in the case of Iraq, Libya and partly Syria, Dick Cheney has lost the argument over Iran.