Thursday, March 13, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Persian-Speaking Countries Move toward Forming an Alliance

Paul Goble

Baku, March 13 – The Turkic-speaking nations of the world have been working hard to convert their linguistic and cultural commonality into an influential political grouping of states, but now there is evidence that the three Persian-speaking countries – Iran, Tajikistan and Afghanistan – may be about to begin a pursuit of the same goal.
And just as the expanding ties of the Turkic countries are changing the geopolitics of Eurasia, so too any combination of the Persian states is likely to have profound consequences not only for the three countries but also for their immediate neighbors and many powerful countries further away.
Citing unnamed “informed sources,” the CA-News agency reported this week that the foreign ministers of Iran, Tajikistan and Afghanistan will meet in Dushanbe on the eve of the Novruz holiday their peoples celebrate to announce the creation of a Union of Persian-Speaking Countries (
Indeed, the news agency said, the creation of this union, an idea which the presidents of the three countries first endorsed at a summit in July 2006, is to be “the main theme of the upcoming meeting,” although it provided no specifics on just what the members of this new regional organization would be committing themselves to.
Some ideas about what it may involve are suggested by the two other items on the agenda of the upcoming session. On the one hand, the three are slated to discuss “the construction of a railroad between Tajikistan and Iran through the territory of Afghanistan,” the agency said.
Such a line would cut the distance trains have to travel between the Tajik capital of Dushanbe and the Iranian city of Meshed by 500 to 600 kilometers, making trade between them less expensive and giving the landlocked Central Asian country another and faster route for trade.
And on the other, the agency said, the three intend to discuss the creation of a special television channel in Persian that would broadcast to the entire region. Such a media effort would not only tend to unify the languages used by the three but also tie them together culturally.
Given the political orientations of these states – Afghanistan is closely linked to the United States and Tajikistan to Russia while Iran is at odds with the international community because of its nuclear program, its hostility to Israel and the West, and its support of terrorism – such a grouping is simultaneously disturbing and problematic.
It is likely to be disturbing to some in each of these countries and to their supporters abroad because it suggests that language and the culture it reflects could reorder the priorities in some or all of these capitals, possibly threatening long-held positions and interests.
But for the same reasons, the formation of such a group – and even more its growth into a serious international organization – seems highly problematic, at most a long term worry and more likely a minor concern, a group which will give leaders the chance to appeal to their core cultures without committing themselves to anything more.

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