Search Asia Times

Advanced Search

 
Middle East

US finds a communist ally against Iran
By B Raman

The United States, which used Islamic fundamentalists against communism in Afghanistan in the 1980s, has embarked on an operation to use communists to bring about the end of the Islamic regime in Iran.

The dozens of anti-cleric and secular Iranian exile groups operating from the West against the Islamic regime in Tehran broadly fall into the following categories:
  • The left-oriented Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK - People's Mujahideen) and elements allied with it in the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). They mainly operate from West Europe, with headquarters in France.
  • The monarchists, mainly operating from the US, with the help of neo-conservative and Jewish lobby groups.
  • The remnants and new adherents of the old pro-Moscow Communist Party of Iran, called the Tudeh Party, and other communist factions, mainly operating from the United Kingdom.

    The MEK, which has in the past indulged in acts of terrorism inside Iran from sanctuaries provided by the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, has been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under a 1996 US law. Until recently, this precluded any Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) assistance to or even contacts with it. However, it would seem that after the occupation of Iraq by the US forces, the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) have been allowed to establish contact with MEK elements in Iraq and West Europe for using them against the Teheran regime. This decision was reportedly taken to preempt any Iranian meddling in Iraq.

    The MEK has had the ability in the past to organize acts of terrorism in Iranian territory, mainly because of the operational assistance provided by the Iraqi intelligence. As of now, the CIA does not have a similar operational capability inside Iran. Moreover, the Bush administration would not like to be seen by the international community as sponsoring terrorism in Iran. Its present cultivation of the MEK is meant more to exercise psychological pressure on the Teheran regime and to keep before it the specter of a US-backed operation one day for a regime change, with the MEK spearheading the operation with US assistance. The French action earlier this week to round up the leaders and activists of the MEK and the NCRI in France was meant to preempt the CIA's covertly using its territory and the large number of Iranian exiles there for a destabilization operation in Iran.

    The US-based monarchists, who have been financially the most well-endowed and the most articulate against the Tehran regime, have the least following inside Iran. Till recently, they were reportedly the recipients of maximum funds and patronage from the US intelligence community.

    The post-1999 student unrest in Iran made the CIA realize that while the MEK and the monarchists were making loud, but often unprovable claims about their following and successes inside Iran, it was the remnants and the new adherents of the Communist Party/factions who had been operating silently and effectively inside Iran and built up a number of anti-cleric, secular and progressive secret cells. It is these cells which have been largely responsible for the growing student unrest in Iran since 1999 and for the current wave of student demonstrations, which have rocked not only Tehran, but also other cities for nearly 10 days now.

    The demonstrations initially started as a protest against a move to privatize certain universities. Students belonging to middle and lower middle class families feared that this could make university education costly and deny them its benefit. They have since assumed a much larger agenda, calling for the end of the clerical rule and for the introduction of secularism and genuine democracy in Iran.

    The number of students involved in these demonstrations is not very large - an average of about 3,000 per affected town, but what is remarkable is the clandestine networking, tenacity of purpose and the ability to evade detection of their cells by the Iranian intelligence agencies displayed by the organizers. Neither the MEK nor the monarchists have exhibited such capabilities in the past. Though the monarchists have been trying to claim credit for what has been happening, the evidence available suggests that the credit for the anti-cleric movement should largely go to the communists and other leftists.

    After the Islamic revolutionaries seized power in Iran in 1979, Iranian intelligence promoted the formation of a number of Student Islamic Associations and Offices for Consolidation of Islamic Unity in the universities and other educational institutions to keep a watch on student activities and to prevent any movement against the clerics. Iranian students, many of them members of the Tudeh Party, had played an active role against the dictatorial regime of the Shah of Iran and in making the success of the Ayatollah Khomeni-led Islamic revolution possible. They were also in the forefront of the anti-US campaign, with many of them playing an active role in the raid on the US embassy in Teheran and the taking of US diplomats as hostages soon after the clerics came to power. The clerics, therefore, knew and feared the potential power of the students in Iran, particularly the fierce motivation of the communists and other leftist supporters among them. After seizing power with the help of the communist students, the clerics ruthlessly suppressed the communists, arresting and executing many of them. Those who escaped arrest and death at the hands of the clerics managed to flee to West Europe and started organizing their activities from there. The lead in this was taken by the London-based Worker-Communist Party of Iran (WCPI).

    Until 1998, the Student Islamic Associations and Offices for Consolidation of Islamic Unity held sway in the universities and the communist cells were unable to make any headway. The situation started changing in favor of the communists from 1999 due to growing dissatisfaction among the students over the repressive rule of the regime. The communist cells organized their activities around demands for freedom of expression, respect for the human rights of political prisoners, end of the execution of political prisoners, restoration of genuine democracy, secularism, right to employment etc.

    The communists issued calls for the unity of all progressive students under the banner of socialism and worker-communism and clandestinely circulated the writings of Mansoor Hekmat, an ideologue of the communist students, who had written, "'In a religious capitalist tyranny, a misogynist, anti-life, anti-intellect and uncivilized regime, the university is a natural ground for the growth of communism." One of the articles circulated by them in the university campuses said, "The more lucid, clear and radical the slogans and demands of the progressive movement for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic, the more the masses of the workers, teachers, women and progressive people will support these demands. The communist students must recognize these circumstances and be aware of its profound potential."

    Among the various pro-communist organizations that started operating in the universities, one could mention the Union of Islamic University Associations, headed by Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, which started a journal called "Payam-e Daneshju", since banned by the conservative judicial authorities. It reflects the views of Iranian dissident scholar Abdul Karim Sorush, who argued that Islam and democracy are compatible and called for an end to the clergy's near monopoly on political power. Another nationwide university organization is the Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat (Office for Strengthening of Unity) which, while calling for greater political freedom, distanced itself from the call for removing the clergy from the corridors of political power. The pro-communist organizations supported President Mohammad Khatami during his election campaigns, but have since become disillusioned over his reluctance to assert himself against the clerics and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

    There was a fresh outbreak of student unrest in Tehran and other places in November, 2002, which was indicative of the organizing capability of the secret cells and of the anti-cleric and even anti-Khatami turn it was taking. On November 18, about 5,000 students of the Sharif University held a protest rally, which was joined by some workers from the Iran National Car Factory and Iran Sypa Motor Manufacturing . About 1,500 students of the Esfahan University also held a demonstration and shouted, "Down with dictatorship"; "Iran is not Chile" and "Both in Kabul and Tehran, down with the Taliban!"

    There is as yet no evidence to corroborate the allegations of the Iranian authorities that the US intelligence has been behind the current wave of student unrest. However, it appears to be true that, after repeatedly seeing the potential and clandestine operational capability of the pro-communist students of the universities, the CIA has started shifting its bets to them rather than placing them on the monarchists and the MEK for destabilizing the Tehran regime.

    Certain Western-based students' organizations, such as the Students' Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran, which do not appear to be directly associated with the communists, have already been in receipt of financial assistance and guidance in agitprop methods from the CIA in the past. Now, an increasing part of this assistance is being diverted to those directly associated with the communists.

    The CIA's assistance to the anti-cleric elements in Iran started even under the Clinton administration. This largely consisted of the supply of funds for propaganda through radio stations and the Internet. Even now, the CIA's assistance is confined to these fields. There is as yet no evidence of para-military training being imparted to these elements anywhere.

    On May 19, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback announced at a press conference that he would introduce a bill to be called the Iran Democracy Act, asking for US$50 million to promote democracy in Iran and to fund Iranian opposition groups. There is a debate among Iranian dissident groups, particularly the leftist-oriented, about the advisability of accepting financial or other assistance from the US. Many argue that acceptance of US assistance would give them the kiss of death and damage their credibility in the eyes of the Iranian people. They say that open statements of support to the protesting students by President George W Bush and other US leaders and officials has already done harm to their movement.

    The US views the students' protests as an "Allahsend". It has presently no plans for any military action in Iran. Hopefully, it has learnt the right lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq about the counter-productive and backlash effect of overt military interventions, particularly in Islamic countries, to achieve national security objectives. Moreover, the need to avoid more body bags in the months preceding next year's presidential elections should rule out an American military foray into Iran.

    Not only the US leadership, Democrat or Republican, but also large sections of the American public opinion have serious concerns, which they consider legitimate, over the perceived role of the clerical regime in Iran as the spoiler of peace and stability in the region and over its nuclear program. US public opinion would strongly back any action taken by the administration to neutralize the perceived threats from Iran without getting militarily involved on the ground. In the US view, a well-orchestrated and effective covert action, even if it involves the resurgence of communism in Iran, would be a better option for digging the grave of the clerical regime.

    Effective covert action demands bases from which one could relay broadcasts and telecasts, disseminate printed propaganda, interact with dissident elements inside Iran without their having to travel to the West for this purpose, and train the surrogates in clandestine operations. The CIA was hoping to use Iraqi and Pakistani territory for this purpose. The deterioration in the internal security situation in Iraq has ruled out the use of its territory for the present.

    As a result, the importance of Pakistan has increased manyfold in the CIA's perception. That is why the CIA strongly advised its government to tickle the ego of President General Pervez Musharraf by receiving him in Camp David instead of in Washington in his upcoming visit and to shower him with the kind of honors no other Pakistani leader has received before - not even Zia ul-Haq during the Afghan war of the 1980s.

    Since his last bilateral visit to the US in February last year, Musharraf has already ordered his Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to covertly collaborate with the US intelligence agencies for the collection of intelligence about Iran. It was unhappiness over this, which led to the resignation of Abdul Sattar, his Foreign Minister, ostensibly on health grounds.

    During the recent visit of Lieutenant-General Ehsanul Haq, director-general of the ISI, to Washington, the subject of expanding this cooperation was reportedly further discussed. According to unconfirmed reports, James Woolsey, former director of the CIA under Clinton, who has been acting as adviser to the Iranian monarchist groups, called on Haq. This subject is expected to be on the top of the agenda for Musharraf's talks with Bush. It is said that the CIA is interested in re-activating the Sunni Balochis in Iran against the Tehran regime and in shifting the MEK dregs presently in Iraq to Pakistani Balochistan so that they can operate from there without causing embarrassment to the US occupation authority in Baghdad.

    Pakistani sources claim that while Musharraf may be inclined to allow the relaying of clandestine broadcasts and telecasts from Pakistani territory, he is against re-activating the Iranian Balochis, which could boomerang on Pakistan's Balochistan.The Bush administration is expected to dangle before him the lollipop of another debt write-off and F-16 aircraft if he goes the whole hog in becoming the US's covert frontline ally against Iran.

    The unhappiness over Musharraf's perceived willingness to collaborate with the US against Iran is not confined to Pakistan's Foreign Office. Some army officers, such as General Mohammad Aziz, a fundamentalist Kashmiri officer belonging to the Sudan tribe of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), also reportedly expressed their misgivings during discussions at general headquarters. Aziz is presently chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee. They have also referred to the dangers of the move causing alienation amongst the Shi'ites in the armed forces. The Pakistan air force, in particular, has a large number of Shi'ites at the lower and middle levels in the cadres of technicians.

    It is reported that Musharraf has reassured them by projecting that his present intelligence collaboration with the US is against the terrorists operating from Iranian territory and not against the Iranian regime. He has described it as part of the war against international terrorism by the international coalition under the UN Security Council Resolution No.1373. He has reportedly reiterated that he would not agree to any other cooperation which may be directed against the clerical regime. But their concerns have not subsided. They have noted that since the recent visit of Ehsanul Haq to the US, Musharraf's enthusiasm for a gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan has decreased.

    Musharraf wants to go down in Pakistan's history as the leader who achieved Pakistan's objective in Jammu and Kashmir. If he calculates that by collaborating with the US to bring down the Tehran regime, he might achieve this objective, he may not hesitate to do so. New Delhi and Tehran should be prepared for surprises.

    B Raman is Additional Secretary (ret), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, and presently director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai; former member of the National Security Advisory Board of the Government of India. E-Mail: corde@vsnl.com. He was also head of the counter-terrorism division of the Research & Analysis Wing, India's external intelligence agency, from 1988 to August, 1994.
  •  
    Jun 21, 2003



    French cause stir with swoop on Iranian militia
    (Jun 20, '03)

    US wages war from within Iran
    (Jun 20, '03)

    Taking the Iran regime by the horns
    (Jun 19, '03)

    Washington plays into Iranian clerics' hands
    (Jun 17, '03)

     

    Affiliates
    Click here to be one)

     

     
       
             
    No material from Asia Times Online may be republished in any form without written permission.
    Copyright 2003, Asia Times Online, 4305 Far East Finance Centre, 16 Harcourt Rd, Central, Hong Kong