Akram Bunni

Iran and the Afghan Lesson

Axis of resistance propaganda was not satisfied with cheering and jeering for what they considered a historic defeat “the great satan” was dealt in Afghanistan. Rather, they rushed to draw lessons and conclusions from that development and generalize them, hoping to protect themselves and their discourse, which has become beset with fragility and delirium. Of course, no rational person can disregard the validity and benefits of some of those lessons. However, it is not rational, even if one is to adopt their approach, to limit these lessons to the US experience, attempting, either out of good intentions or, more likely, bad intentions, to whitewash the Iranian experiences and the rulers in Tehran’s responsibility for their outcomes.

True, the most important lesson that can be drawn from the Afghan experience was enthusiastically propagated by the axis of resistance; it is impossible to impose a way of life on any of the peoples of the world with the logic of force, violence, and occupation. That is true for the US attempts to spread liberal thought and a democratic way of life as part of a project dubbed the “New Middle East.” After twenty years of occupying Afghanistan, Washington has failed. Let us say that it could not, with all of its strength and experience, change the structure of society and impose one that is compatible with its project. However, could this lesson apply to the Iranian case, given Iranian rulers’ efforts to export their so-called “revolution” and impose their political and confessional way of life with the same logic of force, violence, and occupation, on some Arab societies?

It is also true that one criticism that could be levied at the US leadership’s battle against terrorism is its focus on security and military aspects while neglecting the economy and the need to develop different societies and their ways of life. That is necessary for pulling the rug from under intolerant extremist forces. But would the axis of resistance dare to look, from this angle, at the flaws in Iranian military intervention, the systematically destructive role Tehran’s rules and their militias in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, a role that has ravaged those countries and left their development decades further behind, besides having their money and riches stolen?

Moreover, fairness and impartiality compel us to admit the relative development seen in Afghanistan while it was under US occupation, especially in terms of its educational and healthcare institutions, as well as the empowerment of Afghan women, who were enabled to play a role in society. On the other hand, we see the extent to which healthcare and education have declined in Iran’s spheres of influence, besides the oppression women face and the violation of their rights in various ways.

Thirdly, the axis of resistance’s conclusion that the US attempts to protect national unity from division and disintegration and to build a unitary national state and national institutions, which were frail and mired in corruption and political backwardness, failed. They collapsed after a slight shove, as shown by the speed at which the Taliban took over the country. However, is there nothing to say, in this regard, about what Tehran’s rulers and their militias have done and continue to do to undermine national unity in societies where they have influence? They maneuver to pull national communities apart by forcing people to acquiesce to them and to further the Iranian regional project instead of their national interests and needs. In this vein, they stir strife and sectarian conflict without concern for the provocations and reactions, ripping national bonds apart and leaving nothing left of these societies’ unity.

Fourthly, it is true that the US administration was forced to withdraw from Afghanistan to avoid incurring further financial and human losses. Indeed, we could go further and accept the axis of resistance’s narrative that the exacerbation of US economic and social crises due to the extremely high costs of its wars and foreign interventions were behind the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, that it had no choice but to do so to ease its burdens and focus on domestic issues and address domestic problems. However, is the Iranian leadership learning this lesson? It has refused to reverse its heinous interventionist policy despite the crises it has created for the Iranian people, who are now poorer and more in need, as well as the tens of thousands of victims who have lost their lives in wars they have nothing to do with? Or does this lesson, not concern leaders who only care about continuing to expand their regional influence and exporting what they consider a “revolution” wherever they can, without paying any mind to the devastating consequences that it leaves behind?

It is perhaps a virtue of democratic states, and here this is relevant to the US, that they are capable of recognizing their mistakes and doing the right thing in the end. That was the case for the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which were critically scrutinized. However, the Iranian regime would never accept to take this position and recognize what it has done to its people and the majority of the people of the region. That would be to recognize that its Islamist project lacks future prospects, that it is plagued with helplessness and failure, and has become a swamp of victims and devastation. That applies to its ability to continue to spread its regional influence and even development programs aimed at empowering people economically and socially.

Finally, we don’t know if some of those in the axis of resistance have the boldness required to look into a different lesson. It can be summed up in a phrase spoken by an Iranian official, in which he voices his apprehension about US forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. He explicitly says he is worried that the Taliban could become a more complicated and costly problem for Tehran than the Americans had been, tying their rise to the specter of Afghanistan turning into an epicenter of turmoil on its borders, with all the economic and security ramifications that imply. He adds that this could force them to wage a long conflict, one they do not want and whose ramifications they cannot afford. Sunni rule, at the end of the day, is seen as hostile to Shiite rule in Iran, linking this to fears that it would grant Pakistan, which has strong social and security ties with the Taliban, an opportunity to pressure Iran. The Taliban’s rise could also allow Turkey to expand its influence in Afghanistan, exploiting its confessional proximity to the Taliban to enhance its ability to compete for positions and influence in the region.

The axis of resistance avoids learning this lesson, as it exposes the extent to which the pursuit of personal gains has shaped and continues to shape the Iranian leadership’s position and approach to policymaking. It is these interests that move them, rather than the religious principles and values they purport to represent, or the slogans of supporting the oppressed and fighting tyranny, all of which do not concern it…. This leadership, over its long history, has shown that maintaining its power and privileges is its principal concern, regardless of the disastrous consequences. The clearest evidence is the omnipresence of destruction and crises everywhere it tries to have influence and impose its control.