Monday, December 22, 2014

Why is Iran stable while Pakistan isn’t despite both are democracies heavily influenced by religion?

The recent massacre of 132 school children in Peshawar in Pakistan has generated an unprecedented level of sympathy towards the victims from both within Pakistan and outside the country. The call for an all-out war against Jihadists as revenge for the dastardly act, especially within the country, has been as severe and strong as the outpouring sympathy towards unfortunate victims.

Religion being involved in ruling the country in "Islamic Republic of Pakistan" despite being a democracy is blamed to have been one of the main reasons for the chaotic state of affairs which have befallen to the country, home to the second largest Muslim population in the world.  This is explained in the backdrop of the relative stability the secular India, Pakistan's neighbour enjoys since her independence despite having the most diverse ethnic composition in the world.  Except Indonesia, Iran, Turkey and a few other countries most other Islamic states are still ruled by despots or autocrats or military rulers. (Pakistan had also been under military rule more years than under the civilian rule since her independence. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's present government became the first ever recipient of power from another civilian government since independence).

Exemplarily stable Iran

Is too much of involvement of religion in governing the country or in other words the political leadership becoming prisoners of the religious authorities the reason for Pakistan's instability?  Then how can the stability enjoyed by "Islamic Republic of Iran" be explained? Though Iran is a democracy the supreme arbitrator of the government of Iran is a religious authority or in other words Iran is a Theocracy, only such example in the world at present. After Iran and Iraq war that ended in late 1980's the Islamic Republic of Iran has been enjoying stability as same level as a peaceful Western democracy. True! Civil liberties of the people in Iran are restricted to a larger extent and the Revolutionary Guards play a leading role in imposing strict rules to the society. However, the situation isn't as bad as the Western media demonizes Iran.

Problems inherited by colonists and Pakistan military's excessive role

The cause for the present quagmire that Pakistan is bogged down in is to a larger extend linked to the partition of then British India as present day Pakistan and India at their independence from colonist Britain. One of the most pressing unresolved problems between the two countries at the partition was the dispute over Indian administrated Kashmir. (The cause for the two out of three wars that raged between the two neighbours since independence was over this Kashmir dispute).  The supremely prominent role played by the Pakistan military in the Pakistan is linked to the deeply embedded notion that the military is the defender of the nation against the powerful India. Therefore, Pakistan military has been playing larger than life role in the country leading to repeated military take overs of democratically elected governments since its independence. The moment a democratically elected government tries to mend fence with India, there had been a strong tendency of a military take over as the military fears it would lose the privileged position it holds in the society.  On the other hand Pakistan military can be named the only properly functioning and the largest institution in the country given a large amount of wealth it consumes, its professionalism and the sheer size. An American journal mentioned some time back quoting Voltaire who said that "Many countries in the world have armies but Bismarck's Prussian Army has a country. Given the sheer size, professionalism and the wealth it controls the same can be said about Pakistan Army as well"  

Jihadi proxies and the West's excessive interferences in Pakistan      

The powerful Inter Services Intelligence's (ISI) role in employing Jihadist groups as proxies to attack Indian military, the interests in Indian administrated Kashmir and inside India has been an open secret.  The real turning point of using Jihadist proxies by the Pakistan military and its feared intelligence service against the country's adversaries was when the US and the west supported Pakistan militarily and financially during General  Zia-ul-Haq's reign to fight against Soviet forces in Afghanistan from 1979- 1989. Scores of Jihadists groups led by Mujahidin fighters were used to attack the Soviet Forces in Afghanistan. These fighters belonging to multitude of Jihadists groups later gave birth to ultra-extremist and fanatical Taliban both in Pakistan and Afghanistan following Soviet troop's withdrawal from Afghanistan.  These fanatical groups including Taliban have now become a headache to Pakistan military as they control swathes of semi- autonomous tribal areas of Eastern Pakistan. These groups constantly carry out brutal attacks against civilian targets, as was witnessed recently in Peshawar, as well as against the Pakistan military aiming at taking over the power of the country to turn the country to a fully-fledged Islamic state run by Sharia law and gaining independence to the semi-autonomous tribal areas in Eastern Pakistan.  On the other hand Saudi funded madrasas mushroomed across the country in thousands have become breeding grounds for producing Jihadi fanatics. The US's military and economic support to Pakistan and drones attacks carried out against Islamic militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan have also contributed to radicalization of poverty stricken populations in tribal areas which are feeding grounds for Jihadi groups.  

Another pertinent question that begs answers is that whether Iran which is also neighbouring to Pakistan does not use Jihadist proxies to achieve its ulterior motives. Iran indeed uses proxy Jihadi groups. The case in point is Hezbollah which is playing a very crucial role at present in fighting alongside with President Al Assad's forces in Syria against Syrian rebels. Hezbollah is a powerful proxy of Iran as is the case with Hamas in Palestinian. Yet, Iran never allowed those proxy groups to destabilize the country.

Iran's formidable resolve against multitude of odds

On the other hand, given the multitude of challenges and the formidable military powers in the world that have been at work against Iran, one can say that Pakistan is enjoying a very safe position. The only formidable military power which challenges Pakistan at the moment is India. In contrast Iran is challenged by Israel, the US, the UK and many other Western Powers. On top of all while acting as the protector of Shia Muslims in the world which is 10 % against 85% to 95% Sunnis, Iran is constantly challenged by Sunni Arab Muslim world which is led by Saudi Arabia, one of the most formidable military in the region. In less than a decade into founding of Islamic Republic of Iran through the Islamic revolution in 1979 Iran fought a war with Iraq which was militarily and financially supported by the US and the West.    Needless to say the challenge Iran faces due to prolonged sanctions by the West led by the US has been having debilitating affect in Iran's economy.                

Iran's impressive progress in many fields while being reduced to an international pariah state  

Having faced this many number of challenges militarily, economically, socially and ideologically Iran has made vast strides in many fields including being  a leading technological innovator in the region after Israel. Iran's indigenously developed some of the technologies have started to draw attention form the world. The case in point is its drone technology which has produced an array of indigenously developed drones. Mexico has already placed an order for Iranian drones and they would soon be flying over the skies of Mexico. Needless to say that Iran has made an impressive progress in nuclear technology as well to the extent of a few leading Iranian nuclear scientist being eliminated by Israel by assassinations.  The strides made by Iranians in arts and culture too have been outstanding. Iranian movie makers have been able to bag many international awards including Academy awards.          

Why has then Pakistan become an almost a failed state while Iran has been making significant strides in many fields while facing a few times greater challenges than Pakistan? As noted earlier both the countries are heavily influenced by religion-Islam.  

As described above Iran has been able to withstand with a sustained effort foreign Interferences (by the West and other wealthy Arab countries like Saudi Arabia) after Islamic Revolution despite being subjected to become an international pariah state.  On the other hand Iran had been lucky enough not to face similar sort of partition as faced by India and Pakistan when colonists departed though Iran had also been under British colonists. West's interferences in Pakistan since its independence to achieve their ulterior motives have left debilitating effect in Pakistan which seems to be not seeing the light in the dark tunnel in foreseeable future.   The colonial past, again a manifestation by the West has inherited many baggages that have been a persistent and devastating burden to the countries especially in South Asia, here the case being Pakistan.

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