By Sattar Rind
Persian, now Iran’s, history goes back to the Iron Age – the world’s oldest continuous major civilization, with historical and urban settlements dating back to 4000 BC, at least.
Iranians are assumed to be Aryan and lived in the existing central Asian steppe area. In ancient history they had observed different emperors. However, Cyrus the Great was the first Persian Emperor in history who embraced all the previously civilized states of the ancient Near East and vastly expanded Persian rule and made part of the existing Iran. It was the largest empire that had ever been seen in this world.
Seleucid emperors were the next to Cyrus, then the Parthian and the Sasanians who governed Iran for more than a thousand years.
Following the Sasanians, Iran once again unified as an independent state in the fifteenth century, this time from a Sufi saint family from Azerbaijan, a person named Ismail, who politically manipulated his followers – the Shiite militants Qizilbash, and had captured Tabriz and declared himself as Shah of Azerbaijan, becoming founder of the Safavid Dynasty in July 1501.
Since then this dynasty never looked back and ruled Iran until the Islamic revolution of Imam Khomeini on April 1st, 1979 ended their rule forcibly exiling the King Raza Shah Pahlavi from Iran.
At their peak the Safavid Dynasty ruled and controlled all of modern Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Armenia, most of Georgia, the North Caucasus, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Syria, as well as parts of Turkey, especially Anatolia, Macedonia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, the existing Afghanistan and Pakistan up to Indus valley.
His followers, Qizilbash, preferred to be called the ‘army of Haider’ – a name of Hazrat Ali – the first Imam of Muslim Shiites. Thus they developed Shiite Islam as the official religion of the empire which marked a great turning point in Islamic history.
However, the new Islamic state of Iran and its spiritual leader Imam Khomeini was the first head who enhanced more militancy in an already militant Muslim sect but was intolerable for the Arabs as they were for centuries rivals of one another.
But mostly it was the Arabs – being tribal oriented they used to taunt and hate civilized people. It is a trait of tribal people and could be observed still today in the same situation.
Iran undoubtedly has a great rich heritage – art, poetry, music and collective manners. They always remained proud to their civilization and history – what great philosopher Friedrich Hegel termed them “the first Historical People.”
Perhaps due to this or many other reasons, the Arabian people for centuries never liked the Iranians. It is not a secret but an open fact. It is even being said that the Iranians became Muslim, but in their own way. It was not ‘Arabized’. The Persian remained Persians. In a sense, Iranian Islam is a second advent of Islam itself, a new Islam sometimes referred to as Islam-i-Ajam.
Again this conflict and rivalry went in opposite directions to each other on the issue of the Islamic sect. The Shiites are the second largest Muslim sect in the Muslim world. Nevertheless in this conflict Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab worsened at a great level, especially if we look at a concise history then we could not forget the massacre of Karbala, believed to be led by the Al-Saud leader Abdul Aziz Ibn Al-Saud, the son-in-law of Ibn Wahhab.
He damaged Imam Hussain’s tomb (the Grandson of Muhammad (PBUH) and son of fourth Caliph Hazrat Ali of Muslim history), it is claimed, in return, one man killing him by a stiletto in revenge.
For the existing Pakistan, Iran was the first country that accepted Pakistan as a sovereign state and never went against one another. They developed the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) which later changed into the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) and widened with many other Central Asian countries as members.
Both countries when required supported each other either locally or internationally. As Iran was a natural ally and was given the status as ‘Most Favorite Nation’ for trade purposes, both helped each other in wars, in different ways. The relationship within the countries though remained very cordial but reached its peak in the days of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
However in the Zia era even if both countries never intended to damage one other at state level, a resentment was for the first time noticed in the relationship between the two.
The reason was obvious in that Zia was the ultraconservative and very close to the Wahhabi school of thought and perhaps was the first Pakistani ruler of such mentality who tried to be part of the Saudi Arabian ideology and impose the same ideologue in Pakistan fearing the new Islamic revolution of Imam Khomeini may influence the people. It was him who sent 40 thousand army personnel to defend Saudi Arabia from the internal and possibly external threat in 1980, although it was condemned as an act and not accepted by the people of Pakistan, even including army personnel within the ranks.
Zia however was claiming the Iranian revolution as Islamic but he was the person who had created sectarian groups, protected and enhanced them to kill the Shiite Muslims in Pakistan. This could still be observed today. It is believed that when Zia met with Imam Khomeini in Iran he tried to recognise his role for Islamic service but Khomeini, without caring for diplomacy, snubbed Zia that he knew him and was the puppet of Saudi rulers, playing an important role on their behalf killing Shiite Muslims in Pakistan.
Following this Zia started believing that it would be better for him not to give any space to expanding Shiites in Pakistan. Another factor was also involved that somehow most Shiite communities or almost all were supporting Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto either directly or indirectly.
Whatever happened in the Zia era in the recent past or what is currently going on against the Shiite people in Pakistan, one thing it is very clear and important to note is that the people of Pakistan, from the depths of their hearts, are not interested in being part of any proxy war against the natural ally and neighboring country Iran. This is something every ruling authority in Pakistan knows.
Therefore on each occasion in the past, Pakistan has been a very close ally to the US and Saudi Arabia, but has never opposed Iran. In the recent action of Saudi Arabia killing a Shiite leader, Nimr al-Nimr, a spat between Iran and Saudi spread throughout the world, most Gulf Cooperation Council Countries (GCC) disconnecting diplomatic ties with Iran. But for Pakistan it would be impossible due to the people of Pakistan, as it would be difficult for security reasons.
The Balochs of Balochistan have been fighting for their independence since 1948 and have a long history of fighting against the Pakistani army. The total bordering area of Pakistan is connected with Iran from the Balochistan province. There is also a Baloch province in Iran. In the past, and especially in 1974 against the Baloch insurgency, Iran helped Pakistan giving guns, helicopters and fighter jets to curb such an uprising.
If Pakistan decided to go against Iran it could be possible that Iran supports Balochistan. We know the proverb ‘Enemy of the enemy is a friend’. Shiite Muslims are the second largest sect and cover more than 20% of the populace of Pakistan and would be aggravated by this, no Pakistani leader being in a position to provoke them. Thus it will be observed there is no possibility a Pakistan leader will stand up for Saudi Arabia, openly at least. However, it is said that only God knows the secrets of the inner core of the soul.
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