On November 5, 2017 Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI) hosted a lecture by Dr Sadollah Zarei, President Andishe Sazan-e Noor on ‘Prospects of Pakistan-Iran Cooperation for Regional Peace and Security’. Prof. Syed Sajjad Shabbir, Executive Director IPI, chaired the event, while Chairman National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs was the chief guest on the occasion.
In his opening remarks, Prof Bokhari gave an overview of Pak-Iran relations and said that the two countries during the earlier part of their ties had a cooperative relationship, however during the last three and half it turned lukewarm essentially due to jockeying for power in post-Soviet Afghanistan by supporting opposite factions and their different trajectories of relations with the world’s sole superpower and the Gulf countries.
The relationship, he noted, is now defined by an economic disconnect and the shared threat of terrorism emanating from a fragile regional security environment.
He cautioned that the threat of Daesh was growing in the region and suggested that the terrorist group, being a shared threat, can only be confronted head-on when both Pakistan and Iran sincerely work with each other for regional peace and deny it any ground to establish itself.
Dr Zarei in his lecture deliberated on Trump Administration’s policy towards South Asia. He was of the view that the new US policy reinforces the need for Pak-Iran cooperation. He warned that Pakistan’s continued reliance on US would not serve its interests any further.
Rejecting Trump’s allegations against Pakistan of not eliminating terrorist sanctuaries from its soil, Dr Zarei said, those were baseless and would continue as along as Islamabad does not submit itself and agrees to toe the American agenda. He believed that US was benefitting from the volatile situation in Afghanistan.
The scholar, therefore, called for a new alignment in the region comprising, China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and Turkey.
Talking about Pak-Iran relations, he said, there were many elements on which the relationship could be rebuilt. He noted that there was recognition in Islamabad and Tehran for starting a new chapter in relations. He assured that there was a strong support in Tehran for rejuvenation of Pak-Iran ties.
He advised Pakistani and Iranian governments to ignore minor irritants while repairing the ties. Underscoring the importance of improved relations between Pakistan and Iran, he said, together the two countries can achieve security in the region.
Chairman National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtyar, speaking on this occasion, said Pakistan and Iran are determined to take positive steps to deepen mutual understanding, increase cooperation and scale up bilateral relations.
Both countries are consulting on regional peace and security with a focus on Afghanistan in keeping with their strong commitment to peace, stability and progress in Afghanistan, Mr Bakhtyar said.
The NA body’s chief sounded optimistic that latest attempt at renewing the relationship would be fruitful. In this regard, he points towards the efforts being made to improve border management as a concrete manifestation of the “forward looking approach” being pursued.
Mr Bakhtyar noted that Pakistan was keen to reinforce economic cooperation and enhance connectivity between the two countries.
Speaking about the relationship with the US, he recalled that it was strategic and longstanding, but had been conducted in a transactional manner. His word of advice for Trump administration was that differences with Pakistan should not be turned into disputes. He also proposed resumption of bilateral strategic dialogue for a multifaceted engagement.
He cautioned US policymakers against becoming hostage of their own strategic construct of giving India the role of security provider in the region. Pushing this approach, he warned, could lead to “a strategic accident”. “The US should seek the truth in its Afghanistan strategy,” he said, insisting that the international community had failed to deliver peace to Afghanistan.
On economic ties, he recalled that Pakistan and Iran were working on long term projects that will increase the scope of economic relations. The Five Year Strategic Plan for Trade signed between the two countries will add much needed impetus to bilateral economic engagement.
Projects such as the Pak-Iran gas pipeline, supply of electricity from Iran, start of negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement, reactivation of Pak-Iran Business Council, opening of additional international border and establishment of border markets are tangible steps to revitalize Pak-Iran economic relations.
Pakistan envisions a cooperative linkage to promote connectivity between Gwadar and Chabahar. Designation of Gwadar and Chabahar as Sister Ports would strengthen shipping and logistics cooperation.
Member Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Senator Farhatullah Babar said that continued diplomatic engagement was necessary to bring down mutual distrust.
He spoke of challenges in ties and described 2017 as an important year in Pak-Iran relations.
Mr Babar noted the absence of intellectual discussion in Pak-Iran ties and called for a bilateral intellectual dialogue.
ANP Leader Senator Afrasiab Khattak talked about the strength of people to people relations in Pak-Iran ties and said they were independent of the governmental relations.
President Ummat-e Wahida Allama Amin Shaheedi said fighting terrorism was in the mutual interest of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan and said it formed a common agenda for promotion of relations.