Hashmi Rafsanjani—the Kashmir spoiler man


Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, influential Shia leader and a former president of Iran, died on Sunday in Tehran. He was 82. A key player in the 1979 Islamic Revolution, he held numerous leadership roles -- from speaker of parliament to serving twice as president (between 1989 and 1997) to heading influential clerical bodies -- since the establishment of the Islamic Republic nearly four decades ago. As a revolutionary, he fought the Shah's regime and its Western-leaning social and economic policies. But when he became president a year after the end of the Iran-Iraq war, he pushed for liberalization and privatization programs, hoping to boost the country's war-torn economy. A two-time president (1989—97), he had favored closer ties with the West. Western analysts believed that he sought a less confrontational relationship with the United States than other powerful figures in the Iranian hierarchy, for whom hostility toward Washington was a touchstone of ideological purity. He was credited with suggesting that “Death to America” be dropped from the litany of slogans at Tehran’s Friday prayers, a weekly moment of fervor in Iran’s political and religious calendar. He was jailed five times for his opposition to the Shah before the Revolution, but was criticized for not tolerating dissent when he was in power and his government was accused of human rights abuses. Rafsanjani was an early advocate of Iranian support for non-state actors across the Middle East, including the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah, but later became a champion for a more pragmatic foreign policy approach toward Iran's neighbors and the international community. It was this very ability to change positions and modify stances according to the circumstances, as well as his skill at navigating what were at times competing ideas, that enabled Rafsanjani to remain an influential heavyweight within the Iranian system. Known as a pragmatist and centrist inclined toward economic liberalism and political authoritarianism, Rafsanjani was accused by critics of corruption in amassing his fortune and of a readiness for harsh tactics to deal with dissent at home and abroad. By 2013, Rafsanjani was said to have built a family business empire that owned Iran’s second biggest airline, exercised a near monopoly on the lucrative pistachio trade and controlled the largest private university, Azad. The family’s business interests also included real estate, construction and oil deals. In 2003, Forbes magazine said Mr. Rafsanjani’s personal wealth exceeded $1 billion. His time as president left a bitter legacy for many Iranians who struggled to get by. In parliamentary elections, he fared badly and was awarded a seat only after the intervention of a high-powered clerical panel, prompting him to withdraw from the legislature. In Kashmir, Rafsanjani is known as the one who stood by India on Kashmir issue. He is credited with having sided with India on Kashmir issue and saving it from disgrace in 1994. That time India was on the brink of economic disaster. Just two year before (1992) India had mortgaged its gold reserves. Russia, its only ally, was still licking the wounds after the break-up of the Soviet Union. The Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC), supported by influential Western nations, was pushing a resolution at the UN Commission Human Rights (UNCHR), later rechristened as Human Rights Council, to condemn India for human right violations in Kashmir. The resolution, with UNCHR approval, was to be referred to the UN Security Council for initiating economic sanctions and other punitive measures against India. Since the decisions in the OIC are taken by consensus, government of India shrewdly prevailed on Iran to abstain from voting. Once there was no consensus in the OIC, the resolution was bound to fall through. That is what exactly happened. Iranian president Rafsanjani ordered his brigade to stay away from voting that ultimately saw the death of the resolution. Much later, it came to be known that when the Pakistani ambassador sought to move the OIC resolution, his Iranian counterpart in Geneva, under orders from Teheran, backed out. He argued that as a close friend of both India and Pakistan, Iran was ready to sort out their problems and there was no need to raise these in an international forum. That was the last time Pakistan tried to get a resolution on the Kashmir issue tabled in a UN forum. Rafsanjani’s pro India stance dealt a heavy blow not only to Kashmir cause but also saved India falling from grace.