The US was defeated in Iraq with much help from Iran; the US was defeated in Afghanistan with much help from Pakistan. Both were neighbours of the targeted states, but Iran was an adversary and Pakistan an ally. Yet both acted with strategic ambivalence. Iran was cooperative when Saddam was defeated; Pakistan was cooperative when Mullah Omar was defeated. Later Iran undermined Iraq’s American occupation by backing the Shia community. Pakistan undermined Afghanistan’s American occupation by backing the Pashtun Afghans.
Iran used the border with Iraq — made porous by eight years of war with Saddam Hussein — to infiltrate Shia warriors trained in Iran. Pakistan used the Pakistan-Afghanistan border historically porous — because of its non-acceptance — to infiltrate Taliban and al Qaeda warriors. Iran allowed al Qaeda the facility of its terrain to transit from Pakistan to Iraq. The Iranian plan was to back the Shia community of Iraq whose population was divided three ways: Shia, Sunni and non-Arab Kurd. Pakistan backed the Pashtuns in Afghanistan whose population was divided three ways: Pashtun, Tajik-Uzbek and Shia Hazara.
America went into Iraq with the declared aim of spreading democracy in the Middle East. Iran was a religious state next door and had trained Shia warriors from Iraq on its soil against the scourge of the Shia, Saddam Hussein. America wanted to ‘reinstate’ the communities brutalised by Saddam Hussein: Shias and Kurds. America went into Afghanistan to reinstate the communities brutalised by the Pashtun-based Taliban government. Through elections it brought the Shia community to power in Iraq, negating democracy through a three-way ‘frozen vote’. In Afghanistan, it empowered the non-Pashtun; a Hazara became vice-president in Kabul.
Iran sheltered Shias and Kurds and fielded them in Iraq against America. Pakistan sheltered Taliban and al Qaeda in its safe havens and loosed them on the occupying America force in Afghanistan. In Iraq the Sunni backlash against the Shia was assisted by Saudi Arabia across the Syrian border. In Afghanistan, the Taliban crossed the Durand Line and targeted the ‘puppet regime’ and American troops. The big leaders it sheltered were Mullah Umar, Osama bin Laden and al Zawahiri. Iran had sheltered Ibrahim al Jafari, prime minister in 2004. He spent ten years in Iran during Iran-Iraq War.
Iraqi firebrand Shia leader Muqtada al Sadr confronted the Sunni onslaught with his Mahdi Army from the suburbs of Baghdad and never reconciled to American occupation because of heavy Iranian financial and political help. Sadr received an estimated $70 million in 2004 from Iran. In January this year, he made a surprise return to Iraq, ending nearly four years of self-imposed exile in Iran, ready to fill the power vacuum created by the American departure. Iran wants its national security ensured in Iraq; Pakistan wants its national security ensured in Afghanistan. Iran has made a lot of headway in ensuring that post-American power vacuum is filled by its proteges. Pakistan is positioning itself in such a way that after the Americans leave Afghanistan, Islamabad is able to call the shots in Kabul.
Both Iran and Pakistan have used terrorism as a policy instrument. The carnage has been most savage in both states, based on sect and ethnicity. Iran used non-state actors against the Soviet Union and America but kept them in quarantine; but Pakistan allowed its terrorists to penetrate its civil society and is now paying a price for it.
There are differences too in how Iran and Pakistan have reacted to trouble nextdoor. These differences have led to different internal results. The defeated party is known; there are no victors.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 9th, 2011.
More in OpinionWill this Land of the Pure ever get a Steve Jobs?