Wait, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's brother is running for president of Iran?

On Saturday, the five-day registration period for Iran's June 14 presidential election came to a dramatic close when several last-minute candidates entered the running. And buried deep in news articles reporting the participation of popular former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as well as Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's top aide and the father of Ahmadinejad's daughter-in-law -- was a surprising name: Davood Ahmadinejad, the president's older brother.

So which relative will Iran's president support? It's pretty clear Mashaei is getting the nod. For months, analysts have asserted that Ahmadinejad is grooming Mashaei, his current chief of staff, to be his successor, and Ahmadinejad confirmed these suspicions shortly after Mashaei announced his intention to run. "Mashaei means Ahmadinejad, and Ahmadinejad means Mashaei," the president declared. So much for brotherly love. Iran's election officials, in fact, have threatened to bring charges against Ahmadinejad (ones that could carry jail time or 74 lashes) for accompanying Mashaei as he registered for the election.

Davood, meanwhile, has announced that he will be running as an independent candidate, according to Iran's state-run Fars News Agency. We know little about his ideology and background, but we do know that in recent months he has been a vocal critic of his brother's administration, joining the president's hard-line opponents in referring to members of Ahmadinejad's team as a "deviant current" in Iranian society.

But the Ahmadinejad brothers haven't always been rivals; once upon a time, not long ago, the two were actually political allies. During Ahmadinejad's first term in office, which began in 2005, Davood served in his administration as the chief of the president's office of inspection. It was only in 2008 that they split ways. In a 2011 interview excerpted by PBS's Tehran Bureau, Davood claimed the separation was an ideological one:

We have separated our ways from those who have deviated from the path of Velaayat-e Faghih [guardianship of the Islamic jurist, represented by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], even if it is our brother [who has done so]. 

According to a leaked 2010 U.S. embassy cable, however, the falling out was a bit more personal than Davood let on. And it may have centered on an individual in the news again this week: Ahmadinejad's confidant, Mashaei. As the cable explains:

Ahmadinejad's brother Davud, the former head of the president's office of inspection, accused Mashaei of saying 'absurd' things to keep the system busy and to prevent progress towards Khomeini's goals. He mockingly implied that Mashaei's only 'accomplishment' is his friendship with Hooshang Amir Ahmadi.

The mention of Hooshang Amirahmadi, a New Jersey-based professor and current presidential hopeful (see Katie Cella's profile of him for FP), is surprising. But what U.S. diplomats said next is more telling:

(COMMENT: Davud Ahmadinejad, who resigned his position as in August 2008, reportedly did so due to disagreements with his brother regarding Mashaei. END COMMENT.)

With Iran's Guardian Council now set to narrow down hundreds of presidential candidates to just a few names by May 17, analysts are predicting that Mashaei is unlikely to make the cut because of opposition from the supreme leader and his conservative backers. Davood probably won't make it through either. But if he somehow does, and he wins, don't expect Mahmoud to land a job in the new administration.


The story of how Nawaz Sharif pulled back from nuclear war

On Saturday, Nawaz Sharif swept to victory in Pakistan's parliamentary elections, capping a frantic election season and handing the former prime minister a sufficient number of seats to assemble what is likely to be a far more stable government than his country has witnessed in recent years.

But observers of Pakistani politics in the United States are likely to wonder what Sharif's election means for the troubled relations between the two countries. And one paragraph in the New York Times write-up of Sharif's victory offers a clue:

He first came to American attention during Pakistan's tense confrontation with India in 1999, when the possibility of a nuclear conflict was averted thanks to mediation by President Bill Clinton.

In a mere 30 words, the Times reviews an episode that brought the world about as close to nuclear war as it has come since the Cuban missile crisis. And Nawaz Sharif, the man about to assume power in Pakistan, was one of the central characters in that drama.

In the spring of 1999, the Pakistani army, without notifying then-Prime Minister Sharif, crossed the Line of Control and seized strategically vital outposts in the Kargil district of Indian-controlled Kashmir. India had abandoned the mountainous outposts for the winter, and moved swiftly to retake their territory when they realized what had happened. The ensuing conflict became known as the Kargil War.

Abandoning its Cold War ally, the United States identified Pakistan as the belligerent and threatened to cut off a much-needed IMF loan package in an effort to force Islamabad to withdraw to the Line of Control. Wedged between the Pakistani military and the White House, Sharif flew in desperation to Washington for a tense July 4 meeting. Fearing for his life, he brought along his wife and children.

On the morning of the 4th, Clinton's advisors convened to inform Sharif that American intelligence had gotten wind of Pakistan's plans to mobilize its nuclear weapons. If Clinton decided to recognize Pakistani territorial gains, India would surely escalate the conflict, risking a nuclear response from the Pakistanis. If Clinton managed to get Sharif to retreat to the Line of Control, nuclear war would likely be averted, but Pakistani military leaders would probably depose Sharif at their first chance.

Sandy Berger, the U.S. national security advisor, told Clinton that he was heading into the single most important meeting with a foreign leader of his presidency. The goal was to get Sharif to retreat but give him sufficient political cover to hang on to power. "If he arrives as a prime minister but stays as an exile," Berger told Clinton, "he's not going to be able to make stick whatever deal you get out of him."

After a back-and-forth between the two leaders, Sharif asked to meet privately with Clinton. Alone with Sharif and Bruce Riedel, a National Security Council official taking notes, Clinton informed the prime minister of the Pakistani military's nuclear preparations (Sharif seemed surprised) and threatened to issue a statement pinning the blame for the conflict on Pakistan if Sharif refused to pull his forces back. According to Riedel's account of the meeting, Clinton compared the situation to the Cuban missile crisis and asked Sharif if he realized what would happen if even one bomb were dropped. Sharif finished Clinton's sentence for him, noting that it would be a catastrophe.

Out of options and having realized that Clinton would never recognize Pakistan's territorial gains, Sharif beat a hasty retreat and agreed to withdraw his forces. The only political cover he secured was a commitment from Clinton to take a personal interest in the 'Lahore process,' which was aimed at resolving the India-Pakistan border dispute. But that was all he got. Nuclear war was averted, and Clinton secured a diplomatic victory.

Three months later, Sharif was deposed and eventually exiled by the man who ordered Pakistani forces into Kargil: Pervez Musharraf. Now Sharif is set to return to power, while Musharraf is under house arrest.

It's a remarkable reversal of fortune for two men who very nearly started a nuclear war.