With the changing regional and international dimensions, Pakistan is opening its options to rebuild alliance and revive old friendships, like every other country in the international global system. To build those long-lastingties, Prime Minister Imran Khan was on a historic and landmark visit to Tehran from 21-22 April 2019 on the invitation of President Hassan Rouhani. This was the first visit of Prime Minister after assuming office since August last year. After taking the office, the leadership in Islamabad is diversifying its regional and international engagements and options with reaching out to the neighboring countries for sustainable and peaceful relationships based on mutual confidence building measures. Th visit to Iran was one such connection to one larger picture for portraying Pakistan as an important peace broker in the region. The visit has also gained significance especially in the backdrop of skirmishes between India and Pakistan recently where both states were almost at the brink of the nuclear madness. Right before the visit, a recent tragic incident happened wherein 15 gunmen wearing military uniforms ambushed a bus in southwestern Balochistan Province on April 18, killing 14 Pakistani Army personnel. This has also mounted the tension between the two capitals. With high level delegation led by Prime Minister Khan met Syed Ali Khamenei, besides holding detailed consultations with President Rouhani. Prime Minister is accompanied by Ministers for Finance, Human Rights, Maritime Affairs, Interprovincial Coordination, Advisor on Commerce, Task Force on energy and special assistant on overseas Pakistan and human resources besides several senior officials. During the visit, Prime Minister has also held meeting with the Iranian and Pakistani businessmen.
Pakistan’s relations with Iran are based on strong religious affinities, historic, geographical and people to people contacts coupled with robust security, political, diplomatic and fraternal ties. Since inception in 1947, the relations have witnessed several highs and lows however both states continued to develop their framework for cooperation in manner that was feasible and reliable. Pakistan and Iran attach great importance to each other. Both states, over the years, used various geographical, religious and political lenses to view each other hence created a flavor in relationship that has the essence and taste of saffron and lemon at the same time. Apart from being part of the international and regional groupings for instance Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) and Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), both states support each other on issues of not only of mutual nature but also challenges faced by both states. Being leaders of the Muslim world, Pakistan and Iran hold important influential strategic and political place which remained undeniable.
As responsible states, both countries need to build their mutual confidence to the level especially in this era where chaos is ruling supreme in the regional and international levels. One of the important confidence building measure is moving ahead with the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline which has remained in the doldrums since the inception of the project. The visit has also provided the opportunity to smooth bilateral ties with Iran at the highest level. For the past four years, the project has faced tough challenges as a result of the international sanctions on Iran imposed by the UN and other countries including United States, Canada, United Kingdom and the European Union. Amongst all the US sanctions were more severe. These sanctions from the US are also hampering the trade linkages between Pakistan and Iran. During the recent visit, President of Iran expressed to link between Gwadar and Chahbhar ports in order to strengthen the bilateral trade relations.Iran and Pakistan’s leaders have already agreed to increase the volume of bilateral trade over the next five years to $ 5 billion. Iran also expressed its willingness to join the project of the China – Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It is said that Iran can play a major role in making the CPEC a success with its vast energy resources. The two countries have already declared Chabahar and Gwadar ports as sister ports complementing each other to enhance their trade ties.
In Tehran, there is strong belief that the change of government in Islamabad will help boost the confidence and relations where this visit is of historic nature
In 2013 the Pakistani side of the pipeline was inaugurated while it was planned to complete in less than two years however the work has yet to be completed. The skirmishes and tensions in the border regions with Iran are some of the facts that cannot be denied. India’s proxies in Blaochistan are hipper active making it nearly impossible to begin any kind of collaborative efforts that both Iran and Pakistan are envisioning for in the future including IP Pipeline as well. This visit has also provided some impetus to both states to move ahead and build the confidence that is required.
During the visit, apart from the confidence building measures, there were also fruitful discussions over cooperation on security and connected challenges were also discussed. There were issues of border security and fencing the border regions for dealing with the day to day security threats aswell. The attacks on the railway lines, important installations, killing of the military personals especially the recent incident that has perished the 15 precious lives. Both states have always been calling each other to take actions against the groups operating from both the countries and attacking and causing tensions. It is also important and linked to the fact that unless and until both states would not build confidence and share proper intelligence till then these issue will continue to haunt both capitals. The tension has eased in recent weeks after Pakistan recovered the kidnapped Iranian border guards and assured President Hassan Rouhani of the Prime Minister that Islamabad would not allow its land to be used against the neighboring country. Last week, after heavy floods killed at least 70 people and displaced hundreds of others, Pakistan sent two C-130 planes with relief goods to Iran. The aid was made up of 500 tents, 3300 blankets and medical kits for emergencies. During this difficult time, Pakistan extended its fraternal support. The statement issued by the FO stated, “As a fraternal country, Pakistan decided to help its neighbor Iran by sending humanitarian aid in addition to Iran’s own relief efforts”. At this difficult time, Pakistanis stand by their Iranian brethren.
During the visit Prime Minister Imran Khan also made another important move to build the mutual confidence by saying that Pakistan is suffering from the groups from the Iranian soil and Iran has also suffered from the terrorism by groups operation from Pakistan and both states need to work together to eradicated this menace while not allowing the soil of each state to use against the other. There is a strong need to have an overhaul and makeover of the Pakistan and Iran relations. In Tehran, there is strong belief that the change of government in Islamabad will help boost the confidence and relations where this visit is of historic nature. Keeping in view the Pakistan’s stand on not joining the Saudi led war and the visit of the Army Chief to Iran are few of the watershed moments in the relations where this visit of Prime Minister Khan has helped opened new chapter as well. Iran and Pakistan are not only close neighbors, but two major Muslim world countries, and their cooperation is useful to the Muslim Ummah in the overall development and cooperation.
The writer is Director, Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies