Iran’s misguided call for brotherly ties

Iran’s misguided call for brotherly ties

Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, has called for brotherly relations with regional countries. In the southern province of Hormozgan, the president last week criticized neighboring countries that cooperate with the US and Israel, saying they were taking the “wrong road.” He added: “We want to establish brotherly ties with all countries of the region.”

He talked about good relations even though no attempts have been made to improve diplomatic ties with two close neighbors, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. There is also a sign that Iran’s relations with Pakistan have soured.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Iranian flag and pictures of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei were all over Islamabad to mark the 40th anniversary of the revolution — a good deed from a neighbor to participate in its friend’s celebration.

But a few days later, Pakistan welcomed Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as part of his Asia tour. With the country economically broken, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan did not hide his excitement and the high expectations he had over the investment possibilities that Saudi Arabia could bring.

Without a doubt, the historical ties between the two nations have always been strong. Saudi Arabia has an excellent relationship with Pakistan, in part because of its economic investments and financial

assistance, but also due to the religious bond that evokes so much compassion from Pakistanis toward the Kingdom.

With Iran and Saudi Arabia engaged in verbal accusations toward each other, Pakistan may get dragged into this competition between the two rival powers. Being a neighbor to Iran and having strong ties with it, while at the same time being close to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan is perhaps in the difficult position of having to appear to remain neutral between Tehran and Riyadh.

With Iran and Saudi Arabia engaged in verbal accusations toward each other, Pakistan may get dragged into this competition between the two rival powers

Camelia Entekhabifard

Just a few days ahead of the crown prince’s visit to Pakistan, a truck bomb attack on a bus carrying members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) killed 27 guards and wounded 13 others in the south-eastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan. Iran said the suicide bomber was a Pakistani.

This area of Iran, which has long borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan, is occasionally marred by separatist attacks or drug cartels, but Tehran blamed Saudi Arabia and Pakistan for supporting the attack, and the IRGC vowed to take revenge.

Perhaps political leaders in Tehran, being sensitive about the crown prince’s visit to Pakistan, tried to blame the Islamabad government for the attack. This allegation could increase regional tension — the opposite of what Rouhani said he was wishing for.

Sistan and Baluchistan is among the poorest and most underdeveloped provinces in Iran. The government has never wanted to invest in or improve the infrastructure there because it does not trust the people (in terms of ethnicity or religion.) When ethnic and religious discrimination are widely exercised, and drug use and unemployment are common, it is easy for anyone to take advantage of these disadvantaged people.

In a nutshell, brotherhood and close friendships first have to be practiced with the citizens of a nation — only then can it come to one’s neighbors and the wider region.

• Camelia Entekhabifard is an Iranian-American journalist, political commentator and author of Camelia: Save Yourself By Telling the Truth (Seven Stories Press, 2008). Twitter: @CameliaFard

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