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Iran Report: November 19, 2001

19 November 2001, Volume 4, Number 44

TEHRAN HAILS THE FALL OF KABUL. Tehran has hailed the capture of Kabul by the Northern Alliance (United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan), called for UN leadership in the transition phase, and called for the exclusion of any Taliban from Afghanistan's future government. At the same time, Tehran has warned about U.S. intentions in the region.

The Northern Alliance's victories will lay the groundwork for the establishment of Afghanistan's future government under UN auspices and with the participation of all of Afghanistan's ethnic groups, state radio reported on 14 November. The same day, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said, "[The] Afghan people should decide on their country's future according to the democratic principle of 'one man, one vote.'" Kharrazi called on the UN to have an active presence in supervising developments in Afghanistan. Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh said that events in Afghanistan are not the result of fighting between the Taliban and their opponents. Rather, "It is the people of Afghanistan who have staged an uprising themselves and are trying to form a government in Afghanistan," Aminzadeh said in the 13 November "Noruz." He said the Afghan people need humanitarian aid now more than ever, and Iran is ready to help.

Tehran radio on 13 November said that President Burhanuddin Rabbani's leadership could serve as a transition administration that would "pave the way" for a broad-based government that represents all the country's ethnic groups. The report said the UN is responsible for solving the Afghan crisis. The UN's 6+2 group, consisting of Afghanistan's immediate neighbors plus the U.S. and Russia, tried to do just that in mid-November meetings attended by the member states' foreign ministers, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and UN special envoy for Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi. The 6+2 group supported the creation of a broad-based and multi-ethnic Afghan government. The participants also endorsed Brahimi's efforts.

Brahimi asked the UN Security Council on 13 November to authorize a five-step plan in which the main ethnic and regional groups establish a provisional council chaired by a symbol of national unity. The Northern Alliance, as well as political groups backed by Iran and Pakistan separately, would participate in the council that precedes a Loya Jirga. Brahimi also called for a security force to maintain stability.

The victorious Afghans were winning kudos from Tehran, but Washington's reward was opprobrium. A 14 November English-language commentary on state radio warned, "The current situation in Afghanistan is seemingly right for the U.S. to further carry out its evil designs in the Muslim land of Afghanistan." The commentary said the assassination of Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud was a Central Intelligence Agency plot carried out by Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda terrorists. Iran should, therefore, make sure that "the Taliban are permanently excluded from the future government." Another commentary that day warned that Washington is exaggerating the lack of security in Afghanistan so it can extend its presence in the region.

And before the Northern Alliance moved into Kabul, state television said on 11 November, "Political experts see recent American action aimed at blocking the entry in Kabul [of Northern Alliance forces] as a move to shape the future Afghan government in line with Washington's viewpoints." (Bill Samii)

TEHRAN SAYS ITS BORDERS ARE SAFE. "Currently there is no security problem in the eastern border areas, and the security should continue to be kept as such in [the] future as well," Khorasan Province police official Brigadier General Iskandar Momeni said on 14 November, according to IRNA. One day earlier, Khorasan Province Deputy Governor-General Hussein Zare-Sefat said that Afghan government forces had replaced the Taliban personnel at the Iran-Afghanistan border posts, according to state television. Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said the change in power in Afghanistan has not affected border security. Ground Forces commander Major General Mohammad Salimi told graduating cadets that the Iranian military is watching the borders closely and is prepared to fend off any threats, according to state television. (Bill Samii)

IRAN-PAKISTAN TALKS WILL HAVE REGIONAL IMPACT. "Pakistan holds to the view that the Northern Alliance forces must not occupy Kabul," Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Aziz Ahmad Khan said on 13 November. Khan went on to say that a multi-ethnic government established under UN auspices would be the only long-term and lasting solution. And during a 13 November press conference in Istanbul, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf also called for a multi-ethnic government, specifically one that included a Pashtun representation. The make-up of the post-Taliban Afghan leadership probably was the main topic during Iranian Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari's 13-16 November visit to Islamabad and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi's 15 November meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, Abdul Satar.

The first meeting between Musavi-Lari and his Pakistani counterpart, Minister of Interior and Narcotics Moinuddin Haider, was held on 14 November. Also in attendance were officials from the two countries' ministries of Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Security, and anti-narcotics forces. Afterwards, according to Tehran radio, Musavi-Lari said: "The time has now come for the Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan, with a shared understanding of one another's concerns, to take serious steps to end the existing problems in the region, as well as to expand their ties." Musavi-Lari met with President Musharraf the next day. Musharraf said -- in words that echo the 6+2 group's recent statement -- that long-lasting peace in Afghanistan requires a "broad-based, multi-ethnic, and representative government" that is "friendly to its neighbors," Radio Pakistan reported.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Satar on 15 November in New York. During that meeting, according to IRNA, Kharrazi said that the only lasting solution to the Afghan crisis would be a broad-based government that includes all Afghan tribes and minorities. Reading between the lines, it appears that Tehran and Islamabad reached some sort of modus vivendi on Afghanistan and the post-Taliban leadership.

Tehran's support will be important for Islamabad, since backing the Taliban did not earn the Pakistanis any friends in the Northern Alliance. In a 13 November interview with Tehran television, Northern Alliance spokesman Mohammed Yunis Kanuni had some advice for Islamabad, saying that it was time for Pakistan to reconsider its strategy, safeguard the Afghans' legitimate interests, and behave like a good neighbor. Even now, Pakistan is the only country that still has diplomatic ties with the Taliban, although Islamabad recently tried to exert some control over them -- the Taliban consulate in Karachi was shut down and the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan was told to stop his daily press briefings.

Nevertheless, Islamabad continues to believe that there is a place for Taliban moderates. Professor Rifaat Hussein of Qaid-e-Azzam University in Islamabad explained in an interview with RFE/RL that this belief has an ethnic context. "What Pakistan is saying is that you have to get the Pashtun representatives on board, and you cannot do that unless some elements of the Taliban join hands with them, because the Taliban still remain very popular. [That] means you will not have stability and unity in Afghanistan as long as some elements of the Taliban are brought into this power equation that everybody is now talking about."

Pervez Iqbal Cheema of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute believes that there is a more geopolitical justification for wanting to include Taliban in the future Afghan government. He told RFE/RL: "I think basically we are trying to [encourage] a government which does not create troubles for Pakistan because Pakistan is already locked up on the eastern frontier. We would like to have one border which is tension-free."

For Tehran, discussing the Pashtuns' Afghan future can yield some major benefits. Some of these benefits were mentioned in reports about Musavi-Lari's 14 November meeting: counter-narcotics, smuggling interdiction, and border markets. Indeed, these issues have been the basis of continuing meetings between the two sides for several years. Tehran may also press for greater state protection for Pakistani Shia and more decisive action against the Pakistani murderers of Iranian officials. Perhaps the greatest concern for Iran is the ease with which Baluchi insurgents can cross Iran's southeastern border into a Pakistani safe haven. The pace of events in Afghanistan appears to have caught everybody unawares, and even neighbors with long memories will continue to be surprised by developments. So it is too early for Tehran and Islamabad to make any long-term deals, just as it is too early for analysts to make long-term predictions. (Bill Samii)

AFGHAN AIRWAVES COME ALIVE. Kabul's Radio Afghanistan is back on the air, featuring female announcers and music for the first time in five years. Indeed, preceding any announcements was a song by Farhad Darya; and Jamileh Mujahid, a woman, spoke the first words. Radio, rather than newspapers or television, is the main way of disseminating information in Afghanistan.

The Taliban's Voice of Sharia, until U.S. and British bombing silenced it, confined itself to broadcasting religious and official decrees and anti-Western propaganda. But this does not mean that Afghans had no news sources after 7 October. A new station, the Northern Alliance's Voice of Peace, began its Dari and Pashto transmissions to Afghanistan using equipment donated by a French agency called Droit de Parole.

Another newcomer to the Afghan airwaves is Commando Solo, a U.S. Air Force National Guard EC-130 that broadcasts music and information for 10 hours a day on two AM and one short-wave frequency, "The Washington Post" reported on 19 October and the "New York Times" reported three days earlier. The broadcasts contain advice such as "Stay away from military installations, government buildings, terrorist camps, roads, factories, or bridges," as well as "Attention Taliban! You are condemned. Did you know that?" Other programs have information on how to surrender.

Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting transmits from Mashhad in Dari, and on 3 November it announced that it has increased its broadcasting slots from two to four a day. Effective 17 November, IRIB will transmit for 11 hours a day from Mashhad. The programs contain news, religious shows, and songs and melodies in Dari, Pashtu, and Uzbek. The Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corporation broadcast in Dari and Pashto and, according to a 21 September "Financial Times" report, the BBC plans to spend an extra $4.3 million to $5.8 million to increase its output to the region. BBC, furthermore, has increased its transmission hours from six to 11 per day. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar acknowledged the psychological power of radio when he said in a 15 November interview with the BBC, "You and American puppet radios have created a sense of concern�" (Bill Samii)

IRANIAN RADIO TURNS UP THE VOLUME. Speaking at the 6 November meeting in Tehran of the Organization of the Islamic Conference's information ministers, Iranian Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance Ahmad Masjed-Jamei recommended that Muslim countries create a powerful information production and distribution system to guarantee their political and cultural survival. These countries must accelerate the development of their communications systems, he said.

Tehran already has taken steps to make this a reality. A one-megawatt (1000 kW) radio transmitter will begin operations soon from a plain near Qazvin. According to an 8 November report from state radio, all the people in Iran's central regions and those in some neighboring countries will be able to hear IRIB programs once the transmissions begin. On 17 November, furthermore, Iranian state radio increased its Dari-language broadcasts from Mashhad by five hours.

The Iraqi National Congress may build a transmitter in Iran, too. The U.S. Department of State has authorized $835,000 from congressionally earmarked money for this project, according to INC spokesman Zaab Sethna. The INC would prefer to have the transmitter in Iraq because it is not confident about Iranian attitudes toward the Iraqi opposition group, "The Washington Post" reported on 10 November.

Moreover, Iran's own multipurpose telecommunications satellite is to be launched by the end of the year, if financing by the central bank is worked out. Zohreh would be capable of beaming seven audio-visual channels and five telecommunications channels (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 August 2000). Minister of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone Ahmad Motamedi said in a 10 October interview with the "Seda-yi Idalat" newspaper that the contract for launching the Zohreh satellite would be signed only after finalization of the financing arrangements. Motamedi did not want to say if the contract would go to a Russian, Chinese, or French firm, "but we have picked our choice." University professor Mehran Mir-Shams said in May that Russia had won the tender for building Zohreh after India pulled out of the bidding, according to IRNA.

If Iran does not launch a satellite soon, it risks losing the orbits assigned to it by the International Telecommunications Union. Zohreh would be the first of six Iranian satellites. (Bill Samii)

UNCENSORED FOREIGN BROADCASTS UNWELCOME. "The enemy is trying to reduce the people's trust in the mission of the Voice and Vision Organization [state broadcasting]," Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 14 November. In order to undercut manifestations of distrust, Tehran continues to jam short-wave broadcasts from overseas, confiscate satellite dishes, and even arrest foreign journalists.

Law Enforcement Forces commander Brigadier-General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf explained the rules for dish confiscation during a 15 November speech in Mashhad. He said that police initially will not enter a house to seize the dish. Instead, the household will receive a notice giving it 24 hours to turn in the dish, and measures will be taken if the dish is not handed in.

Some 7,000 satellite dishes have been confiscated in the first six months of the year, LEF public relations deputy Zakeri said, according to the 29 October "Hayat-i No." Several parliamentarians have criticized the confiscations. Shiraz representative Jalil Sazegar-Nejad, who served on the Cultural Committee, said that one could not say the dishes are all bad or all good; but because of the rate of technological change, their prevalence will increase. IRNA reported on 4 November that Sazegar-Nejad called for a "comprehensive law�for press use including satellites and Internet�" Arak representative Ali Nazari said parliament would "soon revise the act prohibiting satellite receivers," "Hayat-i No" reported on 29 October.

Quchan representative Mohammad Baqer Zakeri said that Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) must provide an alternative to the programs available on satellite broadcasts, "Mellat" reported on 29 October. The ban against satellite dishes was legislated in 1995, and Zakeri criticized uneven enforcement of the law, saying that this led to clashes and losses. Isfahan parliamentarian Rajabali Mazrui added that he opposes the crackdown and recommended more practical and more moderate actions. He prefaced this statement, IRNA reported on 29 October, by saying that "the people show a greater tendency toward foreign media and this can pose a threat to national security."

Tehran police also arrested and detained for four hours CBC-TV reporter Neil Macdonald and his camera crew after they shot footage of a demonstration on 14 November. "They were covering an anti-government protest at a soccer stadium in Tehran when they were apprehended, taken to a police station, and questioned," CBC spokeswoman Ruth-Ellen Soles said, adding, "They were forced to play their taped material, then their material was erased.''

In contrast to the state's repressive practices, IRIB actually used some foreign television coverage on one of its own channels. Iranian state television's Channel 6 interrupted its normal broadcast on 12 November to show about 10 minutes of uninterrupted Cable News Network (CNN) coverage of an airplane crash in New York. Although unexpected, this event is not completely unusual because IRIB has a contract to exchange footage with CNN, and CNN uses IRIB's satellite-uplink facility. (Bill Samii)

MAHDAVIYAT DEATH SENTENCE CONFIRMED. Iran's Supreme Court has confirmed the death sentence of Qolam Reza Ameli, "Kayhan" reported on 11 November. After a series of closed-door trials in the Revolutionary Court, Ameli and some 30 members of the Mahdaviyat group were found guilty in mid-May of acting against national security and trying to assassinate state officials, specifically Tehran Justice Department chief Ali Razini. In late June the Tehran press identified Ameli and Hassan Milani as Mahdaviyat members who received death sentences. Milani is the grandson of Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Hadi Milani, one of the founders of Qom's Haqqani School. The Mahdaviyat group has been linked to the Hojjatieh Society, too (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 November 2000 and 28 May 2001). (Bill Samii)

POLITICAL PARTIES GET RENEWED ATTENTION. At a late-October political-parties conference, Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said that his ministry is doing its utmost to accelerate the development of the country's party system. He explained that this is being done by speeding up the process of licensing political parties. Mohammad Javad Haqshenas, who heads the Interior Ministry's political office, had announced in early September that 154 political groups and unions had received their permits. Statistics cited by Haqshenas in late July, furthermore, underline the point made by his superior. Haqshenas said that in May-June 1999, only 35 political groups had their permits; but by March 2001, 128 groups had such permits.

Just issuing permits and thinking quantitatively may not be enough. A "Covenant on Political Rivalry and National Interests" was issued as the final statement of the late-October parties conference. Some participants in the conference discussed the covenant in 25 October interviews with state television. Until now, said one person, some of the parties have relied on conflict to justify their existence, but what is needed is a definition of national interests and the parties then should work toward those interests. Another participant pointed out that national interests, unity, and ideals should prevent political rivalries from turning into warfare. Ms. Kadivar of the Association of Muslim Women Journalists was a bit skeptical, saying the covenant is just the first step in achieving greater cooperation between the parties. And a representative of the Iran-i Farda Association complained that the conference seemed to include a closed political circle, and people outside that circle had not been invited to the conference.

In an interview with the 10 October "Aftab-i Yazd," Fatemeh Karrubi of the Islamic Society of Women complained that parties do not have a normal relationship with the public. Many of the parties only think and act politically, but they should think about every aspect of the people's demands. For financial reasons, too, some parties are weak. If they want to avoid corruption they avoid economic activities, but then they cannot really achieve much. Mohammad Reza Heidari, the political director-general in the Khorasan Province governor-general's office, argued in mid-August that student organizations and the press have become too political because the parties are weak. If there were powerful parties, he said according to the "Khorasan" daily, then students could concentrate on their studies and newspapers could stick to reporting the news.

As different political organizations tried to influence the selection of new cabinet members during the summer, a commentary in the 23 July "Kar va Kargar" said that the parties' drive for increased power is one of the important issues following President Mohammad Khatami's re-election. The commentary said that Iran still does not possess a strong multi-party system, so the parliament's selection of cabinet members is not party-related and the factions in the parliament do not adopt positions on the basis of party identity. The commentary also said that there are many political organizations, but many of them have just 40-50 members and do not really do much. It termed them "show parties."

The parliament, meanwhile, is drafting legislation affecting political parties. The text of the first draft of this legislation was reproduced in the 22 August issue of "Noruz." Under this draft bill, a party is an organized group of five or more people who are pursuing clearly defined political objectives. All the members of the party must be Iranian nationals aged 18 or over. The party must abstain from violent, military, or paramilitary activities, and not get funding from foreign sources other than international organizations. It should not engage in business or trade. Acceptable sources of money are membership fees; sales of publications; income from exhibitions; revenues from property sales; private donations; and state assistance. Registration with the Interior Ministry would make a party eligible for state assistance and free or subsidized services from state broadcasting, and the party could have representatives at polling places. (Bill Samii)

MILITARY SERVICE EXEMPTIONS ELIMINATED. The general headquarters of the armed services announced on 17 October that conscripts couldn't purchase military exemptions any longer, according to state television. Minister of Defense Ali Shamkhani had said in August that the army should become a professional one in which the term of service is five years. The purchase of exemptions and the creation of a professional military were debated during the summer, but this most recent regulation indicates that a professional army is not forthcoming and may dissuade expatriate Iranians from coming back.

Commander Kamel, manager of the Armed Forces Compulsory Service Staff, said that what Iran really needs is a professional army with contract soldiers, "Iran" reported on 22 September. According to Kamel, the Military Service Purchase Law has been eliminated, and the obligation for military service is 30 years. One can purchase a two-year exemption, but that leaves 28 more years -- "We do not have anything called 'permanent exemption' in the country." Kamel explained that the armed forces are faced with manpower shortages, especially in the eastern part of the country (where villagers have been forced to serve in Basij units). The decision to have a professional army would be made in light of the threats facing Iran and "the nation's special situation" -- presumably its economic circumstances.

Kamel thought that a good solution would be alternative service for those who do not want to serve in the military; they could serve as teachers or in the Health Ministry. Kamel also said that only the prosperous benefit from being able to buy exemptions, although they are the ones who benefit the most from Iran's security, "while the poor youth, tribal youth, and rural youth provide security." In some cases, Kamel said, an employer will pay for a person's two-year exemption, obliging that person to a sort of slavery.

A 20 August commentary in Tabriz's "Misaq" took exception to the sale of military service, too. It said this was a form of discrimination: Military service for all Iranians is an equalizer, but if some must serve while others are exempt, "then the principle of equality has not been fulfilled." Moreover, the Tabriz publication warned, buying military service diminishes the importance of the military and has an adverse impact on the spirit and sense of service of those who are doing their duty.

Military exemptions still are available for medical reasons and for those who are the guardians of their parents. (Bill Samii)

FOREIGN INFLUENCE CAUSES HIZBALLAH DIVISIONS. Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri refused on 8 November to comply with Washington's request to freeze the assets of Hizballah. Hariri said that the Lebanese position is "based on Arab and Islamic solidarity." A display of the relevant solidarity may have been Hariri's trip to Damascus the same day to confer with President Bashar Assad and the simultaneous trip to Beirut by Iranian Vice-President Mohammad Ali Abtahi, who met with Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah and Lebanese President Emil Lahud.

Foreign pressure is not the only reason for Hariri's refusal to cooperate with the White House. Lebanese officials, as well as many in the Middle East, see Hizballah as a resistance movement rather than a terrorist organization. But the international factor is partially responsible for divisions within Hizballah itself. Nicholas Blanford writes in the 30 October issue of Beirut's "Daily Star" that the pro-Syrian wing in Hizballah is preaching restraint, while the pro-Iranian wing wants hostilities against Israel to continue. "The Syrians are very conscious of their seat on the UN Security Council," according to Blanford's source, and there is concern that Damascus will sell out the Lebanese party when the post-Afghanistan phase of the war on terrorism begins.

In an 11 November Martyr's Day speech, Nasrallah said that placing Hizballah on the list of terrorist organizations is not a move against terrorism. He said that the "actual target" is the "strength of Lebanon." According to Nasrallah, this is part of an effort to undermine the Lebanese people's unity and their spirit of resistance. When soft cries of "Death to America" interrupted Nasrallah's speech, he said, "America will not die this way, you have to raise your voice." The crowd of thousands responded with deafening chants of "Death to America," followed by "Death to Israel."

Discussing the U.S. effort to freeze Hizballah's assets and the inclusion of Hizballah on the list of terrorist organizations, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said, "It is unfortunate that the U.S., with the guidance of the Zionist regime, has put Hizballah on the terrorist list," IRNA reported on 11 November.

The designation of the terrorist organizations under Executive Order 13224 is a significant step in stopping the flow of money to terrorist groups, according to a 2 November State Department press release. EO 13224 provides the authority to act against individuals and organizations that associate with named terrorist groups. The press release pointed out that the terrorist groups designated by the U.S. secretary of state as "Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) maintain networks around the world, and use these networks to facilitate deliberate acts of violence against innocent persons to further their nefarious designs." (Bill Samii)