Pakistan and Iran Move Closer to Deepen Ties

Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan as a nation, but the relations between the two neighbours have remained muted over the last few decades.

In the post-revolution Iran, after hardline Shiite clerics took over the country’s political control, Pakistan put relations with Tehran on the backburner. The primary cause for this was Pakistan’s close ties with Riyadh and sectarian differences between the Iran’s Shiite and Saudi Arabia’s Wahabi interpretation of Islam. In the meantime, however, Pakistan grew closer and closer to Saudi Arabia and in return, Riyadh poured in millions into the country’s madrassahs increasing its influence by promoting its own – Wahabi – school of thought.

Despite sectarian differences, both sides have cooperated in the past over issues ranging from controlling ISIS, curbing drug trade, fighting insurgency in Balochistan to intelligence sharing on Taliban.

But Riyadh and Islamabad are beginning to grow closer as diplomatic and state-level visits among the two increased over the last few years.

Only last month, Pakistan tried to establish a line of communication between the arch-rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran during Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan visit to both Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Reciprocating Pakistan’s goodwill, Iran’s Supreme Leader also sided with Pakistan over the Kashmir issue.

In a tweet, he said that “we’re concerned about Muslims’ situation in Kashmir. We have good relations with India, but we expect the Indian government to adopt a just policy towards the noble people of Kashmir and prevent the oppression and bullying of Muslims in this region.”

Apart from the political will from both sides to ensure warm ties, the army leadership from the two countries has also begun to extend its scope of bilateral relations.

Towards that, Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited Tehran last week for a two-day trip where he met with Iran’s top leadership.

In an all-encompassing trip, the General met with Iran’s Chief of Staff Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, Army Commander Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani.

The agenda for the meeting revolved around the Afghan Peace Process and curbing drug trade and terrorism whereas the two sides also showed their willingness to strengthen military ties and intelligence sharing.

Iran’s Army Commander Mousavi proposed military student exchange to cement bilateral ties. Bajwa, on the other hand, emphasized the need for closer cooperation and interaction between the two neighbours as they have common interests and face the same threats.

Apart from stressing the need for closer ties, both sides also discussed the illegal drug trade along the 959km border. Iran is the main illicit drug trade route from Afghanistan and Pakistan to other Asian countries and Europe.

With terrorism in the Balochistan province that borders with Iran, the dialogue also revolved around intelligence sharing to curb terror activities in the region.

Iran President Rouhani asked Pakistan to hold its end of the bargain and expedite work on the 2,775km gas pipeline. He said that “Tehran is ready to finish work on a gas pipeline that has been laid until the Pakistani border.”

The Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline, which was due to be completed in 2014, has been seen no progress due to terror threats along its route as it needs through one of Pakistan’s most volatile and terror-prone province of Balochistan.