Located in the Middle East, Iran is the strategic and transactional neighbour of Pakistan. Having a deeply religious and cultural ties, Iran shares 900 Kms border with Pakistan.
Pakistan and Iran are both Islamic countries, sharing a common ground on many fronts, such as religion, school of thought, language, and culture. Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan as the sovereign state.
Pakistan has always been in the quest to foster an even handed relationship with Iran and has even favoured it on International ground. In February 1979, the Islamic revolution of Iran under the tutelage of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the government of Shah Iran (Mohammad Reza Pahlavi), who was an Iranian monarch.
In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, an Islamic Republic of Iran was established, which Pakistan recognized first. When Iraq invaded Iran in September 1980, many western countries stood behind Saddam Hussein, yet again Pakistan displayed pro-Iran sentiments. When Iran was spooling under stringent economic sanctions levied by the US, Pakistan endorsed the demand of JCPOA (joint comprehensive plan of action) for Iran. In May 2018, when the US scrapped JCPOA, Pakistan condemned the action taken by the US.
The relationship between Iran and Pakistan was stifled when the latter backed the Taliban government in Afghanistan which Iran didn’t fancy. Likewise, the inclination of India towards Iran annoyed Pakistan; and India with the help of Iran initiated an economic project at Chabahar port aimed to counter CPEC.
But both the states didn’t let these discords last long. On May 2014, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif visited Iran, which resulted in Iran-Pak ties.
The recent visit of Iran’s Foreign Minister to Pakistan in August 2018, is likely to lessen further tensions between both countries. Prior to the visit of Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Pakistan, in an unprecedented move, Iran celebrated Pakistan’s Independence Day.
Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan hailed this as a goodwill gesture. In his visit to Pakistan, Javad Zarif held meetings with his counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi, COAS General Qamar Bajwa, and Prime Minister Imran Khan. Both sides agreed to work mutually for the prosperity of the region. The Prime Minister acknowledged the Iranian Supreme Leader’s support for the Kashmiris struggle for self-determination.
Pak-Iran ties are mutually beneficial for both states, as they have suffered many ups and downs in the economic and political course of history, along with the menace of terrorism.
From Iran’s perspective, its robust ties with Pakistan are the need of the hour. Most western countries tend to see Iran as a rogue state. The US imposed sanctions on Iran further propelled it into the quagmire of an economic recession. Iran is the only country in the world who joins North-Korea in FATF’s blacklist.
Pak-Iran ties are mutually beneficial for both states, as they have suffered many ups and downs in the economic and political course of history, along with the menace of terrorism
Iran’s economy stumbles at times due to stagnant exports. Its relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is racked up to the greatest extent. Amidst these circumstances, Pakistan is analogous to a carte-blanche for Iran. Pakistan has always shared friendly ties with KSA, so Pakistan is capable of brokering peace between Iran and KSA.
Pakistan in 1971, played a defining role in fostering bilateral relations between China and the United States, so Pakistan is capable of fostering good ties between the KSA and Iran. The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq can pose a threat to Iran as well, Pakistan with its veteran Army and with experience to combat terrorism can assist Iran in this domain. Moreover, CPEC which is endorsed by the economic giant China incorporates Pakistan, can turn out to be a boon for Iran if it takes part in it. Iran and Pakistan have already agreed to enhance the bilateral trade volume to $5 billion in the coming years. Peaceful Pakistan-Iran ties can curtail the border tensions and purge terrorism for territorial peace and stability.
On the other hand, the energy-starved Pakistan is in desperate need to find a partner who could relieve its energy needs. And Iran seems to be an ideal partner for Pakistan, since it has the potential to generate energy for the industrial zone of Pakistan. Iran and Pakistan already share a partnership on Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project. This project is suitable and economical for Pakistan in many aspects, as it provides cheaper gas than the gas coming from the TAPI gas pipeline. The Iranian gas would cost Pakistan $11 per million British thermal unit (MMBTU), whereas TAPI gas would cost $13 per MMBTU.
Iran with its border access to Turkey and the Caspian Sea can be vital for Pakistan. The Caspian Sea is the world’s largest landlocked water and is situated on the borders of Asia and Europe. Pakistan, on good terms with Iran, can have easy access to Turkey and the Caspian Sea. India’s inclination towards Iran to counter Pak-Sino economic corridor by the way of Chabahar port is a matter of concern for Pakistan. India is investing heavily in Chabahar to counter the influence of the China-invested Gwadar port.
These days, due to the US’ withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Iran is again facing an economic turmoil, therefore Iran and Pakistan possibly might not take advantage of the imposed US sanctions. However, both the states share intermingled historic, cultural and religious bonds and their ties are crucial for economic and regional prosperity. Along with it, the nascent government of Pakistan is also keen on fostering robust relations with neighbour countries as an inevitable element of its foreign policy
The writer is freelance columnist
Published in Daily Times, October 9th 2018.