Pakistan-Iran Relations: Challenges & Future Prospects

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Introduction

Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI) organized a roundtable discussion on ‘Pakistan – Iran Relations: Challenges and Prospects’ on 8th May 2019. The event was organized in the context of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent visit to Tehran. Iranian Ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi Honar Doost and Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs, Syed Ali Haider Zaidi, who accompanied the prime minister on the Iran visit, were the main speakers of the event. Large number of representatives of political parties (PTI, PML-N, PPP, & MQM), heads of think tanks (ISSI, CISS, PIPS, PCC, CGSS), diplomats, academicians, media representatives and researchers participated in the event.

Summary

The key arguments of the speakers are listed as under: –

Federal Minister Syed Ali Haider Zaidi said that several countries have continued trading with Iran despite US sanctions and Pakistan also needs to explore ways of completing the agreed gas pipeline. Further, he believed, there is no chance of U.S. military action against Iran.

Amb Mehdi Honardoost, while reassuring Pakistan on its security concerns, said Iran can never think about destabilizing Pakistan or working against its interest. A third party, he maintained, has been active to drive a wedge between the two countries. The Chabahar port is crucial for Iran’s economic progress and should not be seen as a rival port to Gwadar, he said.

Chairman Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Mushahid Hussain noted that there was no incompatibility of interest on core issues between Pakistan and Iran, which in turn brightens the prospects for enhanced cooperation. Pakistan would never allow its territory to be used against Iran, he maintained. Further, he opined that the scrapping of Iran nuclear deal would be detrimental for global and regional peace.

PPP Leader Senator Farhatullah Babar defended PM Imran Khan’s statement on non-state actors misusing Pakistani soil in the past. He contended that Mr Khan rightly recognized that Pakistan’s soil had been used for terrorism against Iran in the past. Truth telling on both sides is important for better relations, he said. A retired Pakistani General leading the Islamic alliance, dominated by Sunni countries, is counterproductive for country’s foreign policy, the PPP leader added.

Convener Pak-Iran Friendship Group in Senate and PML-N legislator Senator Lt Gen (R) Abdul Qayyum called for efforts for developing direct air link between Islamabad and Tehran and bilateral trade by avoiding U.S. sanctions. Pakistan would never support aggression against Iran, its diplomatic isolation, and economic strangulation.

Former Foreign Secretary and Director General Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) Amb (R) Aizaz Chaudhry said that Pakistan and Iran have not fully exploited the potential of their economic partnership. Through intelligence coordination, he believed, both States can address the border security issues.

Former Foreign Minister and President Pakistan Council on China (PCC) Amb (R) Inam ul Haque said that Pakistan was becoming a fenced country. In his opinion there was no need to fence the borders with Iran and Afghanistan, rather efforts should have been made to govern the ungoverned spaces and regularize illegal trade.

Executive Director Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS) Amb (R) Ali Sarwar Naqvi pointed out the need to work on bolstering people-to-people relations and academic linkages between the two States. Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS), he said, has signed an MoU with Tehran based Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS). He suggested that other think tanks should also develop linkages with Iranian counterparts.

Former Defense Secretary Lt Gen (R) Asif Yasin Malik said Zionists were scared of growing Pak-Iran friendship and we need to be cognizant of this factor.

Observations:

The event was held in the context of PM Imran Khan’s recent visit to Tehran and US deployment of aircraft carriers in the Middle East. However, there was little discussion on possible scenarios that may emerge after this development. Therefore, it is suggested that IPI may host a follow up discussion on the situation emerging in region due to US deployment in the Middle East and the options for Pakistan. Moreover, IPI may facilitate a visit of Islamabad based think tanks to Tehran for discussions with Iranian think tanks and developing collaborations.

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