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Iran’s Move to Moderation

by Newsweek Pakistan

Atta Kenare—AFP

The re-election of Hassan Rouhani as president signals a desire for voting public to reject rightwing politics

The extremist clergy in Iran has been taught a lesson by the Iranian electorate: the people want the state to cool down in the neighborhood and engage at the global level, which means they agree with the “implied” restraint in the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb threatening both Saudi Arabia and Israel. President Hassan Rouhani won his second term with 57 percent of the vote while his opponent fellow-cleric, head of the chief shrine of Mashhad, Ebrahim Raisi got only 38 percent.

Iranian democracy is not perfect. Candidates are vetted and the man who vets them is the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who also wields the informal power of the Revolutionary Guard. He signaled agreement with Rouhani by making public his “doctrine of flexibility,” allowing the nuclear deal with America and its U.N. Security Council allies including China and Russia. He also “vetted” ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad out of the contest probably because he knew which way the popular opinion had swung because of the economic hardship Iran’s challenging regional policies were attracting.

If Rouhani’s opponents thought they could get the more conservative countryside to oust him they were mistaken. Iran’s high literacy (especially among women)—unlike Pakistan’s relatively low one—dictated moderation. But the region is scared of the coming removal of sanctions from Iran and is happy that America seems set to renege on the nuclear deal.

Pakistan needn’t self-flagellate on being in the wrong regional camp. The fact is Iran has conducted its foreign policy in the isolationist groove since the rise to power of Imam Khomeini in 1979. The feeling in Pakistan is right: why join a sectarian gang of authoritarian states against neighboring Iran? But Pakistan has to wait till President Rouhani in his second term “engages” with the region and is no longer dangerously isolationist. He can afford it: Iran remains rich in oil and gas, and the rising imperium of China is interested in it.

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