Feb 15, 2013

Decline of Iran's Soft Power in Afghanistan

Stanford: CREEES seminar: "Iran and the Hazaras of Afghanistan: The Decline of Tehran's Soft Power"

Short synopsis of my talk’s proposed content:

Iran’s influence in Afghanistan is unique in that it has not historically derived from support for militant groups, but instead from “soft power” especially through Afghanistan’s Shiite Hazaras people.  The Hazaras share language, religion and culture with Iran, and constitute approximately 10-15 percent of the Afghan population. Over the last four years, Iran has accelerated its soft power efforts through Hazaras by investing in construction projects, increasing trade and promoting its ideology. Iran has also engaged in cultural exchange programs and provided humanitarian aid and scholarships.  Books, DVDs and pamphlets promoting anti-Zionist and anti-American sentiments have been distributed to Hazara communities.

Despite investing significant resources in these efforts, Iran has not achieved the influence in Afghanistan it hoped for. The Hazara minority group, which has faced long-term persecution in Afghanistan, has proven more concerned with the fear that the Taliban regime will return than it is with Iranian interests. Hazaras therefore tend to support the U.S. troop presence rather than Iran. Other factors like the rise of Hazara nationalism and bitterness about the treatment of Hazara refugees in Iran have also served to mitigate Iran’s traditional soft power efforts.  

Given the waning influence of Iranian soft power in the Hazara ethnic minority, we are now beginning to see evidence of an Iranian trend towards the “hard power.”  “Hard power” activities range from arming, financing and training the Taliban to allowing the Taliban to open an office in Iran.  Iran has also been instrumental in training individuals for roadside bombing attacks, and giving money to Afghan politicians to exert its anti-U.S. influence in Afghanistan. 

Friday, February 15, 2013. 12:00 PM.
Approximate duration of 1.50 hour(s).
CISAC Conference Room, Encina Hall Central (2nd floor)
CREEES Center for Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies at Stanford

Jan 21, 2013

War for Words: Freedom of Speech After America Leaves Afghanistan

Afghan writers and reporters face a worsening situation. Some fear that the gains made for freedom of speech will disappear with the drawdown of foreign forces.

Prominent Afghan writer Taqi Bakhtiari has been condemned to death over his latest book Gumnani (Anonymity) by fundamentalist Afghan Shiite clerics. The clerics, who are tied to the Qom School in Iran, refer to Bakhtiari as “the little Salman Rushdie.” The news was first published on Deutsche Welle Farsi website and went viral on social networking websites, especially Facebook. Later BBC Persian also published a report detailing the issue.

Gumnani is about Mirjan, a young Afghan Shiite from the Hazara minority, who travels to Iran to study in a Madrasa. After being accepted into a religious Madrasa in Isfahan, Mirjan is raped by his Iranian teacher, an Ayatollah.

Facing abuse and mistreatment from his Iranian Ayatollah, the young Afghan boy’s dream for religious studies is shattered and he ends his studies. Mirjan starts reading unreligious books and later returns back to Afghanistan. In Afghanistan the young boy experience constant upheavals disillusioned and depressed. Though Mirjan grew up as a religious boy with tribal traditions guiding him, the rape by his Ayatollah changes Mirjan and he becomes an atheist, criticizing religious beliefs.

Bakhtiari, the writer of the story has said to the BBC that the story is based on true events. Criticism of religious figures, especially Ayatollahs who are high authorities in Islamic Shiite jurisprudence, is unusual among the Afghan Shiite minority. Continue reading on openDemocracy...