As the countries of the Muslim world are about to have largest gathering of their unique forum of Organization of Islamic Conference in Riyadh this week, Pakistan and Iran have developed a thaw in relations to build the synergies for evolution of their deep-rooted relations. In the wake of ongoing stress and strains between Tehran and Washington, Javad Zarif, Foreign Minister of Iran was on his recent urgent spree to different capitals of the regional countries including China, Japan, India and Turkmenistan before his presence in Islamabad to meet at the higher levels of civilian and military commands. Amid the tension in the region and keeping in view Pakistan’s formidable role in the geopolitics of the Persian Gulf where the South Asian nuclear armed Islamic country is finding a tough balance between Riyadh and Tehran. Presence of Iranian Foreign Minister before these important meetings of the regional stakeholders in a tense situation, is meant to convince Pakistan to play a constructive role in pushing or influencing Riyadh to soften its regional stance towards Iran. Lest not forget Pakistan’s relations Saudi Arabia and their both being strong allies of USA. The visit was also important to keep the backdoor diplomatic channels to be utilized to remove the tension and seek assistance from allies.
Earlier Prime Minister Imran Khan was also in Tehran for talks with his counterparts and supreme leaders in Tehran. During this meeting there was several important confidence building measures were achieved between the two important neighbouring countries wherein it was agreed to develop a joint rapid action force to help the surveillance in the borders for security reasons. This step was proposed after the attack on Army personals in Balochistan-bordering Iran. At least a day before Prime Minster’s departure to Tehran, Minister of Foreign Affairs Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that attackers were from Iran-based Baloch Terror organization. The fight against terrorism and extremist remained a centrepiece of Imran Khan’s speech where he stressed the need to curb cross border terrorism, do not permit saboteurs sabotage the regional peace and halt prosperity. Moreover, Quetta-Taftan railway track would be built. This very proposal presents Iranian belief in Pakistani leadership’s urge to maintain regional peace for mutual coexistence.
There is constant existence of paranoia of mistrust between Pakistan and Iran. Sometimes odd events happen whenever some high-level dignitary arrive either to Tehran from Islamabad or from Islamabad to Tehran. The incident in Balochistan happened days before Imran Khan supposed to travel to Tehran. While once President of Iran was about to arrive in Islamabad, Kulbhushan Jadhav was captured from Balochistan and his alleged ring operating from Iran. This growing mistrust has now been slowly demonizing keeping in view the fact that there are now close connections developed between the higher ups in Islamabad and Tehran. Once you begin viewing the other through someone else lenses then there is a growth of the mistrust. With regular contacts and sharing of the intelligence, Pakistan and Iran will continue to deal with the regional and national level issues together. This air of mistrust needs to be removed as perfectly and immediately as possible.
The times are tough, but the hearts of the people of Pakistan and Iran beat to the same rhythm of togetherness and brotherhood
Lately the verbal and diplomatic clashes between Iran and the US became intense after the US intelligence reports suspected Iran planning a possible attack or sabotage US interests in the region. Not to forget the fact, Iran and USA are at loggerheads with each other since USA withdrew from JCPOA and asked Iran to renegotiate or halt its missile development. Iran threatened to partially withdraw from agreement, blocking Strait of Hormuz and to restart uranium enrichment. In response, USA dispatched bomber air crafts in Middle East and Carrier Group Strike Force in Arabian Ocean succeeding 1500 additional military personnel to Middle East. Prior to this in April President of the US designated Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as terrorist organization and as a reaction Iran declared US Central Command to be terrorist entity. The continue tension has made huge dent to the international political and regional geopolitical landscape.
In this backdrop, presence of Mr Zarif and holding high level candid in Islamabad on the arrival has built the confidence between the two countries. Iranian Foreign Minister also met PM Imran Khan where Iran-US tensions were discussed in detail because Pakistan has its own version of concerns in accordance with Iran. It is because Pakistan would also suffer in case of Iran-US war with next-door neighbour, which Pakistan cannot afford due to increasing investments in area of proximity with Iran, Balochistan. On the other end, GCC are major Pakistani allies wherein Pakistan would hate taking sides in any escalation. Accordingly, Prime Minister Imran Khan urged parties to minimize escalation. Iran and Pakistan are continuously building their ties and making it possible shape new partnership blocks in the region. Iran cannot shut doors to Pakistan amid heavy Saudi investments in Balochistan and it have to come up with equally potential work out. It is worth mentioning here that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani appraised Imran Khan for his role to unite Muslim states and efforts to curb apprehensions while not taking sides.
Moreover, Apart from counter weighting US militarization in the region, Iran appears to be in a process of strategic shift, which led her to reshuffle its position in regional affairs. Mr. Javad Zarif came with a formal proposal for Pakistan to link Gwadar with Chahbahar port to maximize the potential of regional connectivity. “We can connect Chahbahar and Gwadar, and then through that connect Gwadar to our entire railroad system, from Iran to the North Corridor, through Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, and also through Azerbaijan, Russia, and through Turkey”, He quoted saying. It is an ambitious position taken by Iran after a series of visits by FM Javad Zarif to China and Russia which clearly presents prospective proposition for China and Russia if Gwadar and Chahbahar are to be linked.
In a regional integration perspective, Iran is an observer member of Shanghai Cooperation Organization led by China, which seeks close proximity and regional integration. On the other hand, linking Chahbahar to Gwadar may present Iranian urge to be part of CPEC and BRI where Pakistan already holds a far more stakes than any other state in the region. In this perspective, Iran would continue to hold a significant position in region and may elevate to dialogue partner ending in full member state in Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It is worth mentioning here that on his visit to China, Iranian Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif in meeting with Chinese counterpart said, “Iran and China need to think together and work together about preserving a multilateral global order and avoiding a unilateral global order”. It presents Iranian distrust with US dominated imperialist world order, which also has been criticized by China of and on. As far as the concern of Pakistan, it already expects no good from the US though not apparently ready to disengage.
Iran and Pakistan agree to work together to reap the fruit of benefit for our countries and build relationship on solid footing hence not allowing any state to sabotage our mutual interests. It is also important that unless, Afghanistan issue is not resolved, Iran offers an easy passage for Pakistani and Chinese trade up to the North and West. It simultaneously offers to connect Eurasia with South Asia and both with China. What Iran is likely seeking are the oil markets, international patronage against unjustified US sanctions and bridging gaps with GCC states especially Saudi Arabia with the help of Pakistan though not spoken these demands on media. It is time for all regional countries to stand up for their region and patron its resources for their own use and get best out of it.
Pakistan and Iran must cooperate in trade and integrate their economies but apparently it becomes difficult since USA has sanctioned Iran and ready to sanction states who deal with Iran. At this state of economic affairs, tough times are ahead for Pakistan and for Iran as both states are facing daunting challenges. As Pakistan could not implement Iran Pakistan gas pipeline project due to international sections and the pressure is mounting day by day. Both states have stood with each other in the test of times. Although the time is tough, but people of Pakistan and Iran have their hearts tied to each other and beat to the same rhythm and symphony of togetherness and brotherhood, no matter what, and will continue to do so.
The writer is director of the Institute of Peace and Diplomatic Studies, Islamabad