Strength­en­ing Pak-Iran re­la­tions

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - — The writer is As­sis­tant Re­search Of­fi­cer at Islamabad Pol­icy Re­search In­sti­tute, a think -tank based in Islamabad. Ay­men Ijaz Email: re­search.pak@gmail.com

PAK­ISTAN and Iran have very strong his­tor­i­cal re­la­tions. The bi­lat­eral re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries are an­chored with very strong foun­da­tions, be­ing im­me­di­ate neigh­bours. Both the states have deep re­li­gious, eth­nic, cul­tural and lin­guis­tic bonds. In the re­cent past, there are some ma­jor de­vel­op­ments in Pak­istan-Iran re­la­tions. Ear­lier this year Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif vis­ited Tehran which was fol­lowed by Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani’s visit to Pak­istan in March 2016. In this his­tor­i­cal visit, sev­eral Mem­o­randa of Un­der­stand­ing (MoUs) and agree­ments were signed for pro­mot­ing bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion in eco­nomic, technical, cul­tural and com­mer­cial fields. It was de­cided to in­crease the bi­lat­eral trade to $ 5 bil­lion over the next five years. Both the coun­tries have be­gun a new re­la­tion­ship in the Post-US sanc­tions phase.

For im­prov­ing the eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two coun­tries, Iran-Pak­istan (IP) Gas pipe­line project is very im­por­tant as Pak­istan would be able to im­port gas at cheaper price from Iran. It is a flag­ship project be­tween the two coun­tries that needs swift im­ple­men­ta­tion. Iran af­ter con­struct­ing pipe­line on its side with $2 bil­lion is wait­ing for Pak­istan to ac­cel­er­ate the project. Pak­istan is also keen to con­nect Iran with the China Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor (CPEC). The IP pipe­line project can be linked with CPEC that would fa­cil­i­tate the trans­porta­tion of Ira­nian gas to China through Pak­istan, thus mak­ing Pak­istan a re­gional hub of trade and en­ergy cor­ri­dor.

On his re­cent visit to Islamabad, Pres­i­dent Rouhani of­fered ex­port of 3000MW elec­tric­ity to Pak­istan. It is the high time that Pak­istan should avail this op­por­tu­nity to over­come its pre­vail­ing en­ergy cri­sis. Pak­istan has plans to build in­dus­trial sites in Pak­istan par­tic­u­larly for petro-chem­i­cal stor­age. Iran would help Pak­istan in in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment and in build­ing of roads, dams, rail­ways etc. while Pak­istan would ex­port tex­tiles, sports goods, agri­cul­tural prod­ucts and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals to Iran. There is a huge mar­ket for th­ese prod­ucts in Iran. There­fore, the bi­lat­eral trade be­tween the two coun­tries should in­crease ex­po­nen­tially af­ter the lift­ing of sanc­tions on Iran.

Pak­istan and Iran share unique eco­nomic and geopo­lit­i­cal re­la­tions. Af­ter bear­ing 37 years of sanc­tions, Chaba­har is a win­dow of in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion for Iran. Pak­istan has a de­sire that the two ports of Gwadar and Chah­ba­har should not be ri­vals but rise like sis­ter ports. The two ports should com­ple­ment each other in pro­mot­ing trade in the re­gion by en­hanc­ing con­nec­tiv­ity through rails, roads and ship­ping links. The trade co-op­er­a­tion be­tween Gwadar and Chah­ba­har would open eco­nomic prospects and job op­por­tu­ni­ties for both the coun­tries.

At re­gional level, Pak­istan and Iran are ready for any rap­proche­ment that di­rectly im­pacts the in­ter­ests of the peo­ple of the re­gion. Pak­istan, Iran and Afghanistan have mu­tual con­cerns and in­ter­ests. The is­sue of Afghanistan is in­dis­pens­able for both Pak­istan and Iran. Hence, the tri­lat­eral talks be­tween Iran, Afghanistan and Pak­istan are es­sen­tial for the Afghan peace process and for restora­tion of durable peace in Afghanistan. A harmonious re­la­tion­ship be­tween Iran and Saudi Ara­bia is im­por­tant for re­gional peace. There­fore, Pak­istan has been play­ing as a me­di­a­tor be­tween th­ese two im­por­tant OIC mem­ber coun­tries and re­gional play­ers.

In the con­text of Iran-In­dia re­la­tions, the re­cent visit of PM Modi to Tehran in May 2016 in which both the coun­tries have signed sev­eral agree­ments, cre­ates sus­pi­cions in Pak­istan. Pak­istan con­sid­ers Iran as a gate­way to Turkey, Moscow, Cen­tral Asia and Europe. The In­dian pres­ence and in­volve­ment in Iran and par­tic­u­larly in Chah­ba­har is detri­men­tal to in­ter­ests of Pak­istan. The de­vel­op­ments in Indo-Iran re­la­tions can be an ir­ri­tant in Pak­istan-Iran re­la­tions.

Sim­i­larly, there are some mis­un­der­stand­ings be­tween Pak­istan and Iran that need to be ad­dressed. For in­stance, Iran has de­nied al­le­ga­tions on Iran that the for­mer Afghan Tal­iban leader Mul­lah Akhtar Man­sour came to Pak­istan from Iran and on the is­sue of In­dian spy Kul­bushan Jad­hav’s ar­rest and his links with Chaba­har. Iran has clar­i­fied it­self by stat­ing that Iran con­sid­ers Afghan Tal­iban as its en­emy and it would never al­low any spy agency or ter­ror­ist group to use Ira­nian ter­ri­tory against Pak­istan. The mis­per­cep­tions and trust deficit be­tween Pak­istan and Iran should be re­moved by in­creas­ing con­fi­dence build­ing mea­sures (CBMs) to im­prove Pak-Iran ties.

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