Tuesday, 23 July, 2019

Strengthening Pak-Iran relations

By: Aymen Ijaz, Pakistan Observer

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 Pakistani 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 co-operation 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.

— The writer is Assistant Research Officer at Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think -tank based in Islamabad.

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