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Mixed response in Pakistan, India to Iran unrest

Week-long protests in Iran over inflation have killed at least 21 people

Mixed response in Pakistan, India to Iran unrest

An Iranian woman raises her fist amid the smoke of tear gas at the University of Tehran during a protest driven by anger over economic problems, in Tehran on Dec. 30, 2017. (Photo by AFP) reporters Islamabad, New Delhi

January 3, 2018

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While governments in India and Pakistan have maintained silence over week-long protests in Iran, there has been a mixed response from religious leaders and political experts.   

At least 21 people have died and hundreds have been arrested since Dec. 28 when thousands of Iranians hit the streets to protest about inflation and unemployment. Sporadic protests, which largely remain leaderless, have also witnessed chants against the Iranian revolution. 

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in his televised speech after the violence, blamed the country’s enemies for the unrest. 

“The enemies have united and are using all their means, money, weapons, policies and security services to create problems for the Islamic regime,” he said. “The enemy is always looking for an opportunity and any crevice to infiltrate and strike the Iranian nation.”

In a Twitter statement, US President Donald Trump commended the demonstrators.

“The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime. All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their pockets. The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The US is watching!” Trump tweeted. 

In Pakistan, there has been no official response from any quarter about the situation in Iran. 

Allama Tahir Ashrafi, head of the Pakistan Ulema Council, a body of Islamic clerics, blamed Iran’s foreign policy for violent protests in the country.  

“Instead of focusing on challenges being faced by the people of Iran, the regime is engaged in fighting proxy wars in Syria, Yemen and Iran,” he told 

“When you ignore people’s sufferings due to unemployment, poverty and rising commodity prices, such incidents are bound to happen.” 

Responding to the comments by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ashrafi said that Iran cannot always blame the West or Arab nations for their own woes.

“Some foreign powers may exploit the situation in Iran, but grievances are genuine,” he concluded. 

“To me the only solution to the problems being faced by the Muslim countries in particular and other countries in general is to adopt a policy of non-interference. Iran should end its support for warring groups in Yemen, Iran, Syria and Lebanon and divert its focus to its own people.”

The same formula, he said, applies to Pakistan and other countries in the region. 

Saqlain Naqvi, a Shia TV analyst and host, said initial natural protests from the Iranian people were hijacked by dissidents being backed by the US, Israel and other countries. 

“We too are opposed to interference of a state in the internal affairs of other regional countries,” Naqvi said when asked about the involvement of Iran in Syria, Iran and Yemen. 

“While there were sporadic protests in Iran, thousands of people took to the street in support of the regime. But the media has ignored them.”

Naqvi also supported Pakistan’s silence on the Iranian unrest, saying that every country is entitled to protect its national interests. 

Zafar Hilaly, a former Pakistani diplomat and political analyst, said grievances are partially genuine due to the rising cost of living, corrupt religious clergy and unemployment. 

Hilaly, however, said efforts were being made to hijack the protests to destabilize Iran. 

“Iran is the single most difficult challenge for the western powers, so it is natural they want to use every opportunity to weaken the regime,” he said.

Father Morris Jalal, executive director of Catholic TV, run by Lahore Archdiocese, fears similar unrest in Pakistan.

“The Pakistan rupee weakened last month and the dollar reached 110.64 due to heavy debt repayments and less foreign investment trickling into the country. On New Year’s Eve, they announced a rise in petrol prices. The economic downslide and inflation will bring our people to the road,” said Father Jalal.

However, the Capuchin priest believes nothing will change with another lockdown in the Islamic republic.

“The people of Iran are more educated and they have a history of good things happening after such movements. The winds of change created by social media will affect everyone. For decades, people in Islamic countries have been suppressed. Now they are more aware and realize that the suffering is not divine but the result of corrupt rulers who acted as dictators. Saudi Arabia’s anti-corruption purge is just a start,” said Father Jalal.

Shia Muslims in India blame Iranian sanctions for the violence.  

Ghulam Ali Gulzar, a Shia scholar and author in the Indian part of Kashmir, said the protest was the handiwork of “mere fringe elements” in Iran “backed by western forces who try to vitiate the atmosphere in the country.”

According to him, protests were merely about inflation but “some vested interests are hell-bent on giving it a different color. There is no external dimension to the issue.”

Another Shia writer and columnist, Samir Ali, said the root cause of protests was the seven years of international sanctions against Iran that had led to inflation.

"The inflation is a result of the international pressure that was against Iran during the past seven years. Now the situation is different. The US is busy with North Korea and it cannot afford to cause any trouble to Iran. The country will for sure come out of this mess," said Samir. 

Hamid Abas, a Shia student from the University of Kashmir, wondered why “such hype is being given to it by the international media when Iranians are protesting only about price rises.”

“The fact is that the western forces couldn’t combat Iran during all these years. US-backed agents have mingled with the protesters and are doing every bit to make it seem like a revolution,” he said.

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