Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Visit to Kabul

I was a member of the high-level delegation that President Khatami led to Kabul only a few months after Hamid Karzai was installed in 2002. We started at 6/30 and had a 1/30 hour flight from Tehran over the Hindukush heights , in the early hours of daylight, breathtaking scenes from the mountain range could be viewed from the small plane we were flying. Kabul airport was still littered by dozens of shattered warplanes and tanks . It was a dreadful view from above. Blue-eyed blond Americans escorted the delegation, welcomed by Karzai in the Airport, to the presidential palace. It was a fascinating visit , after the downfall of the Taliban, after so many years of internal conflicts and war. Women were back in the streets of Kabul and contrary to the naive speculations that Laura Bush and Cherie Blair had made in their trips and messages to Afghan women , they had not all put the burga aside , many still covered their body and head in spite of the change in political atmosphere. Freedom had not done away with the hijab for the Afghan women. However they had a very very long way ahead.

The opium production and trade business was by then deeply rooted in Aghanistan. Since before the Revolution in 1979, Iran was the transit route for the trade of narcotics, taking its toll on the Iranian populace. Hundreds of kilometers of rugged mountainous borders has made it very difficult almost impossible to prevent the influx of Afghan nationals, many of whom are engaged in the illicit trade. During the years after the downfall of the Taliban poppy crop plantations have increased and the trade of opium has boomed. Today Afghanistan provides more than 90% of the world's opium.

A few days ago I watched a report on Aljazeera describing the incompetence and reluctance of the Karzai government to deal with the matter. The show also aired an interview with a former advisor to the Bush Administration who indicated that high-level American officials were involved in the narco-trade. I was contemplating on the matter, trying to digest what I had for long speculated, when I came across a New York Times report; "Is Afghanistan a Narco State?"This report implies that both the Afghan government and the American administration are accomplices in the illicit drugs production and trade. The report provides insight into some of the startling realities in Afghanistan today, it reads:
" By late 2006, however, we had startling new information: despite some successes, poppy cultivation over all would grow by about 17 percent in 2007 and would be increasingly concentrated in the south of the country, where the insurgency was the strongest and the farmers were the wealthiest. The poorest farmers of Afghanistan — those who lived in the north, east and center of the country — were taking advantage of anti drug programs and turning away from poppy cultivation in large numbers. The south was going in the opposite direction, and the Taliban were now financing the insurgency there with drug money — "

I knew this was happening from long before, since when we visited Kabul, a major issue I followed was the drying of the Hamoun wetlands which were located in the Southeast of the country close to the Afghan border. The Hirmand river flowing deep from the Hindokush mountains provides water resources for the wetlands and according to a historic treaty, this right to freshwater resources for the Hamoun has been officially recognized. However the Hirmand river has not been flowing into Iran due to the large plantations which the Afghans were creating to derive water from the Kajaki Dam and the river; no ordinary crop plantations according to the information we were receiving, but the lucrative opium trade was on the rise and demand for poppy cultivation was supported by the wealthy and powerful. Without the water resources from Hirmand the large and regionally important wetlands were devastated.
The Hamoun wetlands are now dry for the third consecutive year. The satellite picture on the left belongs to the 1980s while the other belongs to 2001.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Dialogue With Good Intentions

There was a SMS (mobile message ) floating around last week. I received it from 3 different people. It read " President Ahmadinejad has responded to the 5+1 package on the nuclear issue and he has said the answer is 6!" It seems there was a positive tone in the message that related to the actual developments underway.

The hot weather in Tehran these days is made hotter by news that spreads, first as gossip, but quickly takes ground as fact. Steps for a gradual but full blown rapprochement with the US are apparently underway .The Americans will wisely send Undersecretary Burns to the 5+1 negotiations tomorrow in Geneva. The letters of Dr. Velayati ( Advisor to the Leader) published in Liberation and other newspapers which I mentioned in a former blog post indicated a cautious change of tone. The Guardian article made official a rumour that floated around a week ago on the establishment of an American Interests Section in Tehran. Finally the Iranian Foreign Minister Motakei in Istanbul spoke favorably about both the Interests Section and the direct flights between the two countries.
Although we should not overestimate the importance of these developments, it seems that improvement of relations will not only genuinely benefit the two nations, but both the Bush and the Ahmadinejad administrations will make the most from this development in their party elections. We need to wait until tomorrow to make any final judgment on the outcome of these talks yet we can hope that both sides take part with good intentions in mind . They also need to mind the fact that the deal that they strike needs to be face saving for both countries. The Americans need to understand that Iran cannot be ignored or denied any longer.
I think Iranians will welcome these developments but with much scepticism, they have learned to be patient and leave the final judgements to later, more convenient times.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Imam Ali , For All Times

When we speak about legendary figures who have lived in the past , the most important issue is the relevance that these figures have for current generations. If they are to serve as role models they must bring a message that transcends time and geography , that means necessarily with a strong spiritual and inspirational quality.

The celebrations and holidays we now have in Iran are related to the anniversary of the birthday of Imam Ali, the cousin of the Prophet of Islam , the Khalifa and first Imam and known by foes and friends as a sublime model for humanity . Much has been written and said about the Imam. I think what is most important today is how much is his personality and life is relevant to the challenges that we face in the world and how can he relate to contemporary generations who are searching for a direction in life . It is usually said that young people can easily connect if they find sincerity and meaning in the message.

Imam Ali's (AS) last will to his sons Imam Hasan (AS) and Imam Hussain (AS) after the attempt on his life by a stab from Ibn Muljam:

"My advice to you is to be conscious of Allah and steadfast in your religion. Do not yearn for the world, and do not be seduced by it. Do not resent anything you have missed in it. Proclaim the truth; work for the next world. Oppose the oppressor and support the oppressed. Maintain communication and exchange of opinion among yourselves. Beware of disunity and enmity. Do not desist from promoting good deeds and cautioning against bad ones. "

Friday, July 11, 2008

Fire in the House and the G8 Summit

In the 1992 Sustainable Development Summit in Johannesburg, Jacques Chirac the former President of the French Republic began his speech with the phrase " Our house is on fire", thereby describing not only the state of the world environment in a few words but also alluding to the serious disorder in the affairs of the globe. In my speeches on the future of sustainable development , I would use the term " serious mismanagement of the world" to describe the same situation which is usually well described and analyzed by politicians who have learned to deliver eloquent speeches but have failed to take appropriate action.

The G8 summit hosted by Japan last week was another gathering of the kind. Although Japan preferred to let climate change issues dominate the debates, however the food crisis became the major urgent crisis.

The reality is that Africa and major parts in Asia suffer from a long history of colonialism and despotic rule from which they have not recovered yet. For this reason Europe and the G8 are in a sense accomplices in the fearful fate that awaits these impoverished nations if serious change of course is not taken and relief not provided. Africa has suffered tremendously from weak economies ravaged by a single- crop agriculture totally serving the interests of a few. I have met many African leaders who have spoken with much hope and optimism of the change they can bring about if their economies are permitted to grow. Today the scourge of poverty and AIDs has been coupled with sporadic instances of internal and ethnic strife, in all of which the footprints of the White supremacist race is traceable.

I have heard in international sessions the disgusting rhetoric of some donor states who claim that their generosity should be reciprocated by a gesture of gratitude from the poor nations who owe their existence to the mercy of the great powers. There is a explicit reference to this behaviour in the Holy Quran, asking the donors to honor the dignity of the needy.

Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary General ,was quite outspoken in the G8 Summit , he expressed his concern on the fact that the assistance promised to Africa has not been provided. He made the unprecedented plea that G-8 members make no new commitments at this session but that they just go ahead and fulfill their previous pledges. The Head of the World Bank also made a point by noting that exceptional rises in food prices and hunger will impede the development process in major parts of the world and that this will adversely affect all economies.

It is strange how the powerful have spent such large amounts on military expenditure; trillions of dollars are spent in Iraq for military purposes, but when it comes to hunger and human lives these countries have very little left to donate . When they do it is with much fanfare and propaganda, as if the true objective is to save the face of their Country , not to serve humanity.

Generally speaking , people do not trust world leaders today. They have no reason to. The current state of insecurity, hunger, poverty and war is the expense that many have to pay for the luxurious safe havens of the few rich that dominate and rule.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Reasons for Bitterness

Eventhough the war ended in 1988 after Iran accepted the 598 Security Council Resolution, we still have reports of the martyrdom of victims of chemical warefare. The human and psychological scars are immense. The international community did not react properly to the crimes of the regime of Saddam at that time. The US administration was supporting Saddam with hopes that he would contain the advancement of the Islamic Revolution. This is a strong reason why we all should work for peace that is just and sustainable.

This news item is an eye-opener; how long can the world order be held up by a system of in-human double standards?;_ylt=Aud9eLGXh2SW2_SC6TboC_xg.3QA

Monday, July 7, 2008

Change of Nuclear Climate?

There has been a lot of diplomatic shuffling this week concerning the nuclear issue. Early this week the Advisor to the Supreme Leader made a remark on the 5+1 nuclear incentive package indicating that he believed Iran could benefit by taking a favorable approach to the new package. Manoucher Mottaki Foreign Minister also spoke in a positive tone in different occasions until Fareed Zakaria asked him on a CNN show whether this was a genuine change in direction or was it only a game played to give Iran more leverage in the negotiation table? Although the Government Spokesman and later the President who is now in Malaysia, had a different approach on the matter as usual. There is a general consensus now that Iran should cleverly avert any confrontation pursued by the radical neoconservatives and the Zionist lobby. A reformist newspaper published an interview with a former diplomat who works closely with President Khatami, who indicated that major foreign affair strategies have always been determined by the Leader and all responsible powers should follow his guidelines on the matter.

I have mentioned my belief in the need for continuing negotiation on all sides to find solutions which would enable all sides to preserve their face and retain their national interests. There has been a rational proposal to include Iran in the 5+1 negotiation group, thereby Iran would be involved in direct negotiations, without putting us in the predicament of facing the US in a bilateral negotiation which is still considered too risky by principalist forces in Iran.

The proposal for establishing an office for American Interests Section and Consulate was welcomed by both political factions and some government officials while most official reactions indicated skepticism on the possibility of this plan. The reality is that many people believe that Americans need more than ever to understand the realities of Islamic Iran today. The influx of journalists , academicians and athletes has apparently not been sufficient to convey the spirit of the nation to American politicians some of who seem to be increasingly obsessed with an Islamic Iran which stands defiant in face of the injustices of the global world disorder.

In a different, but closely related, development Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has told US President George W Bush that Moscow will not accept plans for America to place part of its controversial missile defence shield in Lithuania. The two leaders talked about the issue on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Japan. Russia has been firmly opposed to US plans to base facilities for its missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. This has boosted Iran's strategic standing in the region and indicates that certain genuine alliances with shared interest issues have been formed. These alliances could shift the balance and ensure continued stability and peace for Iran and eventually for the war and terrorist stricken countries of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Fourth of July and the Tragedy of July 3

Which is easier; to remeber or to forget? America is a powerful nation. The American people some times do not realize the vast implications of their government's decisions. As the American government and people now celebrate the 4 th of July, their independence day they should not forget the tragedy of the 3rd of July. Only then could it be a day of reawakening and change for the American people.

If they claim and believe to be a free and democratic nation they should also know that they are responsible for the actions of their government and that they will be held accountable for the indifference that they display in face of the tragic policies and adventures that their administration pursues beyond its borders ,as they term it: overseas. Americans are not always aware of the actions of their government and their military in the missions they follow overseas. The public are kept far away from the truth by government controlled media and therefore this makes their judgement and assessment very unrealistic and sometimes irrelevant . What has happened all these years afterwards indicates that the American government is not particularly clever in learning lessons either.
This event and ensuing news and rumours about the fact that the USS Vincennes Commander was decorated with a national medal for his dreadful action in obedience to the orders given by a higher rank are intriguing particularly since it coincided with Independence Day. Also there were rumors that his daughter committed suicide after she realized the shameful reality of her fathers mission.
Iran Air Flight 655 was a civilian airliner shot down by US missiles on Sunday July 3, 1988, over the Strait of Hormuz, toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War. It resulted in killing of 290 passengers, among them many women and children. Operated by Iran Air from Bandar Abbas, Iran, to Dubai, UAE, the aircraft flying as IR655 was destroyed by the U.S. Navy's guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes between Bandar Abbas and Dubai, killing all 290 passengers and crew aboard, including 66 children , ranking it seventh among the deadliest airliner fatalities. Vincennes was traversing the Straits of Hormuz, inside Iranian territorial waters, at the time of the attack and IR655 was within Iranian airspace. According to the US government, the crew mistakenly identified the Iranian Airbus A300 as an attacking F-14 Tomcat fighter. However, the Iranian government maintained that the Vincennes knowingly shot down a civilian aircraft. The event generated a great deal of controversy and criticism of the US. Some analysts have blamed US military commanders and the captain of the Vincennes for reckless and aggressive behavior in a tense and dangerous environment. You can read more :

Thursday, July 3, 2008

In Search for Peace

I was supposed to continue my report on the Oslo Workshop last week but I was so busy with my work at the City Council and the university that I just could not find time for a new post. The Workshop concluded with two major events . First was a commemoration of women's day in Iran where we presented a 20 min excerpt from a TV serial broadcast in Iran some years ago . The film entitled The Holy Mary is based on the narration of the Holy Quran on the life and status of Mary the mother of Jesus.

Since the Quran devotes a whole chapter and many other verses to her life and in that narration a very balanced gender approach and a progressive perspective on women, can be perceived, this subject could be taken as an example of how religions deal with gender equality . Also the issue could be considered as an example of interfaith dialogue or practical dialogue as some term it to be diapraxis. We celebrated the event with a birthday cake with white marzipan topping and colorful flowers. Gifts, handicrafts from rural women's cooperatives from Minab ( Southeast Iran) were also distributed.
The workshop concluded with a statement which highlighted the importance of interfaith dialogue on gender justice as well as the importance of learning from the success as well as the failures of other societies. The importance of including women in global peacemaking efforts and taking the feminine perspective in that dimension was also highlighted.
This was an exceptional opportunity for us to listen, learn and engage in a dialogue across cultural , religious and social lines.

We understand that today more than ever we need to work to prevent conflict and war and to promote peace and security in the world.