Article written by guest contributor, Dr. Mehrdad Khonsari
As one of the leading critics of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) for the past three decades, it is hard admitting that the present system is not the worst possible alternative for our country and that misguided pursuit of regime change could lead to potentially more disastrous outcomes, much like those we have seen across the Middle East ever since and before the Arab Spring. Post Ahmadinejad developments in Iran followed by the call for national reconciliation which subsequently received President Rouhani’s public endorsement, can provide a setting whereby focus on ‘economic reconstruction’, a cause supported by all Iranians, can serve as a starting point for ending internal divisions and guiding the nation towards a better future.
While notions such as democracy, human rights, social justice along with economic development have failed to make an impact in line with public expectations and the country’s true potential, it is, nonetheless, a fact that our people have been spared from ethnic strife and the violent insecurity that has encompassed the lives of ordinary people in such places as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya. Moreover, in a volatile region that is beset with rising Islamic extremism of the ‘Sunni’ kind, no one also questions the undeniable reality that Iran – considered the cradle of Modern day Islamic fundamentalism – is once again, much like President Jimmy Carter had uttered in his legendary 1977 New Year’s Eve comments in Tehran, “an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world”.
Also, despite all the damaging publicity, which the IRI has received over the past 36 years because of its aggressive and reckless behavior both at home and abroad, it has to be said that its worst actions seem somewhat timid when compared to the kind of brutality that is being exhibited by the likes of Taliban, Al Qaeda and nowadays, the so-called Islamic State or ‘Daesh’.
Having jettisoned Ahmadinejad and his cohorts from the seat of power, and with the Supreme Leader standing firmly behind the Rouhani administration, as it seeks to settle the damaging nuclear dispute with the international community, the IRI is suddenly confronted with possibilities, which if carefully nurtured, could bring Iran out of its current quagmire and provide the country with the kind of possibilities that its suffering people have been yearning for for such a long time.
These possibilities include, the immediate removal of crippling economic sanctions, allowing for the resumption of normal banking practices and oil exports, an end to Iran’s international isolation providing for the resumption of trade and badly needed investments and technology transfers and finally, the promotion of a new diplomatic approach aimed at promoting regional ‘entente’ and general stability by preventing ‘Shia-Sunni’ differences from spiraling out of control and falling into the hands of those bent on using it for their own agendas.
However, there are important forces that wish to obstruct such a scenario. In the current atmosphere, while the US administration feels constrained to talk about a ‘grand bargain’, preferring instead to focus on reaching an agreement that will bring the ‘size, scope and transparency’ of the Iranian nuclear program into an acceptable format, the Iranian side is being portrayed as trying to strengthen its negotiating position by stepping up the promotion of a provocative agenda in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and most recently in Yemen.
Unless closely scrutinized and properly ‘nursed’, the conclusion of an agreement over the nuclear issue may end up working against the long term interests of Iran, by depriving the country of a potential nuclear status without any commensurate diplomatic, political or economic benefits for the country. The removal of all sanctions by the ‘5+1’ – even if it was to be carried out immediately – is, in itself, hardly a sufficient reward for the kind of undertaking which is expected of Iran. In response, it is only right that the international community should begin the process of rehabilitating Iran so that the country can once again embark on the road to economic reconstruction and national prosperity.
For its part, Iran will also need to engage in ‘confidence building’ by being seen as wanting to put an end to ‘Shia-Sunni’ rivalry in the region by actively engaging states such as Saudi Arabia who have become increasingly concerned over Iran’s long term intents, promoting mutual trust as it moves against ISIS in Iraq, while at the same time encouraging ‘all party’ dialogue for the resolution of the horrific situation in Syria. While, it has been the historic duty of Iran to be a bastion of support for all Shiites in the world, it is essential that the defusing of the nuclear dispute should also be carried out by a peaceful and non-provocative fulfillment of that legacy, accompanied by a pro-active diplomatic effort to ‘clear the air’ and arrive at a new understanding about regional issues.
None of this is easy. But it can be made to work, especially since prospects for national and regional reconciliation in a way that can salvage national pride and tend to the principal priorities of the Iranian people – such as building a robust economy able to address key neglected issues like jobs, education, health care, pensions and the like – has never looked so promising.
“Dr Mehrdad Khonsari”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mehrdad_Khonsari, a former Iranian diplomat, is Secretary General of the recently formed ‘Organization for Economic Reconstruction and National Reconciliation in Iran’ (BAAM).