Belt and Road: Development through BRI can be a major blow to extremist terror in Pakistan, Afghanistan: Iran FM Zarif

NEW YORK: Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said projects under China’s Belt and Road Initiative can help bring economic development to areas in its region and also deal a major blow to “extremist terror” in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The minister said that much of the terrorism in this particular region, including from Chabahar in Iran to the Pakistani port of Gwadar, which also connects to Afghanistan, is due to lack of economic development.

“So if we can develop, through the Belt and Road Initiative, those areas, we have dealt a major blow to extremist terror in Pakistan, foreign-sponsored (terrorism) in parts of Iran, and in Afghanistan,” he said during a talk at Asia Society here Wednesday.

Terming the BRI initiative as a strategic initiative for China, he said that President Xi (Jinping) has put it on top of his priorities, and “we consider that to be positive. (They are) investing a great deal in the region, they have a number of projects in Iran including industrial and transit projects.”

“We connect the Sea of Oman through the Chabahar Port, which has up till now been exempted from US sanctions, to Europe – both St Petersburg as well as the Black Sea. This is a strategic transit corridor,” he said.

Zarif further explained that there are other transit corridors connecting the East and West.

“We have just agreed with the Iraqis to connect our railroad to the Iraqi railroad which means connecting our railroad to the entire regional railroad,” he said.

“These are important development projects which will not only bring economic development but fight terrorism,” Zarif said.

India has been severely critical of the BRI as one of its corridors, the USD 50 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor, passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). New Delhi says it cannot accept a project that ignores its core concern on sovereignty and territorial integrity.

India is boycotting the second Belt and Road Forum currently underway in Beijing. It had boycotted the first Belt and Road Forum in 2017.

China had unveiled the BRI in 2013 with an aim to link Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes. President Xi has already announced that China would invest around USD 126 billion for the project

On the issue of multilateralism, Zarif said, “everybody is fed up with unilateralism… The rest of the world is not very happy with unilateralist policies of the United States. We are part of the regional scenario. We are part of the global scenario.”

He said that in Iran’s region, they have suggested a regional dialogue forum, adding that if Iran’s neighbours are ready for a non-aggression pact with it, “we are ready for a non-aggression pact with them, including Saudi Arabia, UAE.”

He stressed that Iran is satisfied with its size, geography and natural resources. “We don’t have any reason to have any territorial ambition with anybody else. We have very good relations with Turkey. We have extremely good relations with Pakistan,” he said, adding that Iran enjoys good relations with Azerbaijan, Russia, Iraq.

“Our relations with Afghanistan are excellent,” he said.

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