Iranian opposition abroad finds new voice amid protests

Daily demonstrations have been held outside the Iranian Embassy in London. (AN Photo)
Updated 08 January 2018
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Iranian opposition abroad finds new voice amid protests

LONDON: Iranian opposition groups in the West have been vocal in their calls for the overthrow of the regime during the recent widespread protests across Iran. 
Daily demonstrations have been held outside the Iranian Embassy in London while supporters at a rally on Thursday organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its affiliate The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) echoed protesters’ chants of “down with Khamenei, down with dictators” opposite the UK prime minister’s residence.
Headquartered in France, the PMOI, which is also known as the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), claims to be the Iranian government in exile. Founded in 1965 in opposition to the shah, it has a chequered past in the UK, Europe and the US, where it was designated a terrorist organization until being delisted in 2008, 2009 and 2012 respectively.
Laila Jazayeri, director of the Association of Anglo-Iranian Women in the UK, which is under the NCRI/PMOI umbrella, said: “The fact that the PMOI was named among designated (terror) groups was the work of the Iranian regime. It was part and parcel of a political deal, part of an appeasement policy.
“It is time for change and it is time for all Western leaders to wake up to the reality and stop tying their fate to a regime that has no future.”
Before the Iranian revolution in 1979, the group conducted bombing campaigns against the shah’s regime, and then against the theocratic government during the 1980s and 1990s. They also attacked American targets and supported the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran shortly after the revolution.
Its stance changed after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, with the group claiming to have renounced violence and lobbying for support against the Iranian government among Western parliamentarians and building relationships with politicians in the Europe and the US.
Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and president of the International American Council, described the “paranoia with which the Iranian regime officials constantly speak about the group at home, including the most recent appeal to the French president by Hassan Rouhani, in which he blamed the MEK for its role in the unrest that has engulfed Iran over the past eight years.
“The Iranian regime has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to demonize the PMOI and portrayed it as a group without popular support,” Rafizadeh, an Arab News columnist, added.
Some experts in the UK and US questioned the PMOI’s relevance after decades in exile.
“They have a support base in London, Paris, Washington, but to really become viable as a national alternative to the Islamic Republic they would need to do a lot more to attract people to their cause,” said Alex Vatanka, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and the Jamestown Foundation in Washington.
“They have their hardened core supporters, but that is not going to cut it as far as becoming a really viable alternative.
“History tells us that the Iranian opposition are immensely fragmented — they have a proven record of not getting along. That just helps the Islamic Republic,” he added.
Speaking to Arab News at a rally in London, Azadeh Hosseini, a member of the Anglo-Iranian Teachers Association, said: “We’re here to be the voice of the Iranian people and express our support for the National Council of Resistance of Iran and the PMOI, who have been striving for peace and democracy in Iran since the Iranian regime came into power.”
“Unfortunately Western governments have been very late in condemning the actions of this regime,” she said.
Protesters at the rally in London represented “Iranian people from all walks of life inside Iran,” Jazayeri said, adding: “The PMOI has been after regime change for the last four decades.”
The PMOI’s former association with Saddam Hussein during the 1980s, when the group conducted raids into Iran during the latter stages of the Iran-Iraq war, alienated many Iranians, some of whom see them as “betrayers of the nation” according to Clement Therme, researcher fellow for Iran at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
But Rafizadeh said they remain “the largest and most organized opposition group outside and inside Iran.”
“Regardless of what one might think of the group, the MEK is a major player in Iran. It cannot be dismissed. Not only have they roots within Iranian population, but they also have the organizational power, which makes them a leading player in any change in Iran.”


Pakistan and China push for peace in Afghanistan

Updated 15 December 2018
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Pakistan and China push for peace in Afghanistan

  • Trilateral talks also focused on boosting trust and security between the three countries
  • FM Qureshi extends the olive branch for a new chapter with Kabul

KABUL: Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China held a trilateral meeting in Kabul on Saturday where they discussed measures to boost political trust and join hands for a regional war against militancy which would facilitate the Afghan peace process, even as Taliban insurgents stepped up their attacks.

The meeting was the second one to take place after Beijing had initiated the talks in December last year in order to ease the rising tension between Kabul and Islamabad whose relationship is highly critical for Beijing’s growing economic and political clout in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In recent years, China has deepened its economic and political ties with Afghanistan and is actively using its influence to bring the two South Asian neighbors closer.

Pakistan has long been accused by Afghanistan and the US of providing safe havens for Afghan Taliban leaders, by funding and arming them since their ouster in late 2001.

Islamabad has denied the allegations.

After the meeting on Saturday, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi pushed for a new chapter with Afghanistan, adding that the ongoing blame game would not help in achieving peace or building trust between Islamabad and Kabul.

He said that the Daesh and militants from Central Asia and eastern China were against the peace process in Afghanistan, urging for joint efforts to tackle the extremism.

“I am here to engage with Afghanistan. Let us not stick to the past and stop pointing a finger on Pakistan… I came here to build trust and bridges and reach peace and stability. Any improvement in Afghanistan will benefit Pakistan,” Qureshi told a news conference.

The three countries signed an agreement pushing for joint efforts in the war against militancy with Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister, Salahuddin Rabbani, saying that the coming weeks and months will be highly crucial in evaluating Pakistan’s intentions and its role in supporting an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

Officials from both Afghanistan and Pakistan have held a number of meetings in recent years to mend bilateral ties and work towards measures to fight militancy. However, those talks were an exercise in futility as they were followed by the two countries trading accusations and resorting to the blame game. Rabbani said that “the time has come (for Pakistan) to practically show with genuine steps” that it will fulfill its pledges.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi described both Afghanistan and Pakistan as its strategic partners, adding that China had great political trust in the two. He asked both the countries to resolve their problems in a peaceful manner and backed the US’ efforts to engage in peace talks with the Taliban, urging the militant group to get involved in the process. 

“We support Afghanistan and Pakistan’s efforts for peace and we call on the Taliban to join the peace process. Cooperation between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China is important to bring peace to Afghanistan.” 

The three sides emphasized the importance of regional connectivity and economic development between them. 

Saturday’s meeting took place at a time when Washington is stepping up its efforts to hold talks with the Taliban by meeting with regional powers on how to end the US war in Afghanistan which began more than 17 years ago.

Mohammad Nateqi, a former Afghan diplomat, said that a deciding factor for Saturday’s agreement to work depended on building mutual trust between Pakistan and Afghanistan given the fact that similar conversations have taken place between Kabul and Islamabad earlier as well, without bearing any fruit.

However, at the same time, he was optimistic about positive results, reasoning that the situation had changed when compared to the past with the US increasing its efforts for talks with the Taliban.

“Such meetings can be helpful in mending ties between the countries and in helping them come closer to achieving a peace plan,” he told Arab News.