Apparently because the backlash against Alan Kuperman’s op-ed last week wasn’t harsh enough, the NYT has doubled down with this piece, by Selig Harrison, about US support for ethnic separatist groups in Iran.
The biggest threat to the ruling ayatollahs and generals in multi-ethnic Iran does not come from the embattled democratic opposition movement struggling to reform the Islamic Republic. It comes from increasingly aggressive separatist groups in Kurdish, Baluch, Azeri and Arab ethnic minority regions that collectively make up some 44 percent of Persian-dominated Iran’s population.
This echoes an assertion that Rep. Jane Harman’s made at this year’s AIPAC conference, in which she said it would be a good idea to “separate” Iran’s population along ethnic lines so that stirred up ethnic divisions would weaken the central government.
Now, bizarrely, Harrison says the US should give material support (beyond what it already may covertly provide) to PJAK, Jundullah, Arabs in Khuzestan, and anybody else who might accept it. But he overlooks the complex relationship Washington has with these groups already. For example, Washington has condemned Jundullah terrorist attacks as a gesture to Iran, while at the same time reportedly funneled covert funds to the group and others like it.
Interestingly, Harrison has firsthand knowledge of some of these activities, including US support for
limited covert action carried out by proxy, in the case of the Baluch, through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate or, I.S.I., and in the case of the Kurds by the C.I.A. in cooperation with Israel’s Mossad. My knowledge of the I.S.I.’s role is based on first-hand Pakistani sources, including Baluch leaders.
There is no mention of Jundullah by name in the article, but that group has been one of the most active and high-profile ethnic separatist groups in all of Iran, repeatedly claiming responsibility for attacks on IRGC forces and Iranian border guards.
Compared to the massive protests in the streets of Tehran and Qum, the uncoordinated harassment of the regime by ethnic insurgents may seem like a sideshow. But if the ethnic insurgents could unite and if the democratic opposition could forge a united front with the minorities, the prospects for reforming or toppling the Islamic Republic, now dismal, would brighten.
Perhaps Harrison was constrained by a tight word limit, or perhaps his supporting evidence would have diverted too much attention from the overall conclusion of his piece; but one would be hard pressed to find a more unlikely scenario than that presented by these two gigantic “if’s.” Ethnic insurgents, as he calls them, are not renowned for their ability to play well with others (see, Iraq, former Yugoslavia, Sudan, Nigeria, et al). And pinning ones hopes on the notion that the Green Movement might team up with some of the more reviled ethnic terrorist groups in Iran is not wise either.
The Green Movement, in its current form, is still not “revolutionary” or “counter-revolutionary.” Its strategy still rests on being “more Catholic than the Pope”–or in this case “more Shiite than the Ayatollah.” There’s just no way that the Green Movement will allow itself to be aligned with terrorist separatists without some extreme radicalizing catalyst.