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Pakistan-Iran the Reluctant Neighbours

Pakistan and Iran, despite of international pressure and criticism have maintained cordial relationship. However, the differences and divergence of interests in some areas, including periodic border security tension remain a cause of concern. Maintaining a friendly equation is a necessity for both the countries.

The year 2012 began with a continuity in political upheavals, drastic changes and chaos in many states that touched a height last year. Among these developments, an incident that took place at Pak-Iran border, highlighted a factor that has been a source of constant friction between Pakistan and Iran over past few years’ the vulnerable cross-border security apparatus.

The most recent event in this regard took place in Sistan-Balochistan border region. Iranian security Guards crossed into Pakistani territory and shot to death one person, wounded two and took two with them allegedly involved in some illegal activity. Pakistani security officials chased and detained them. Later, Iranian officials reportedly arrested a number of Pakistani fishermen from Gwadar Bay area and threatened to seal the border with Pakistan. In fact, the incident was not first of its kind. Similar incidents have taken place in the past as well and have been a cause of concern on part of both the governments. However, for countries like Pakistan and Iran which have a history of cordial relations; divergences on some policy issues, including security, territorial integrity and foreign policy interests, stimulate an intellectual inquiry into existing state of Pakistan-Iran relations.

In October 2009, Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were attacked in Sistan-Balochistan border region. In this suicide attack some 37 people and six commanders of IRGC were killed. The Iranian government and officials accused Pakistan of involvement in the incident. Pakistan denied any involvement and strongly condemned the attacks. Following the incident, some 11 Iranian security officials were released which were detained earlier on charges of illegally crossing into Pakistan. Iran closed its border with Pakistan. A meeting was held between President Asif Ali Zardari and Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammed Najjar in Islamabad a week following the incident, during which President Zardari pledged to cooperate with Iran in the capture of the attackers. In February 2010, the Speaker National Assembly, Fehmida Mirza visited Iran and called for expansion of ties between Pakistan and Iran in political, economic and socio-cultural domains. Later on, the Iranian government reopened the border in March 2010 after receiving assurances by Pakistan to improve security in the border region.

Earlier, foreign ministers of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan met in Islamabad in January 2010 and pledged to coordinate efforts to combating terrorism, illicit weapon trade and drug smuggling across the borders shared by Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. Prior to this, in 2009, Iran donated some 250,000 dollars in aid for reconstruction and rehabilitation in conflict-stricken Swat.

Pakistan attaches great importance to its relations with Iran. Historically, the two countries share peaceful border and frontiers which has further complimented by economic and socio-cultural ties. Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan after its independence and since then the country has supported Pakistan on a number of occasions. In early years, following the independence of Pakistan, Iran had provided Pakistan with military assistance and also supported during Pakistan’s wars with India in 1965 and 1971. Pakistan, on the other hand, was the first country to recognize the Islamic Government in Iran following the Islamic Revolution. The country also tacitly supported Iran during Iraq-Iran war. Apart from the areas of cooperation, there has been a clear shift in Iran’s policy of unequivocally supporting Pakistan in its stance on Kashmir in decades following independence of Pakistan to depriving Pakistan of its vote in favour of its stated policy on Kashmir. Also, Iran never approved of Pakistan government supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The two countries share strong economic ties as well. Both Pakistan and Iran along with Turkey founded Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) in 1964 to promote and strengthen economic cooperation and development among the member states which later was revived and restructured with the name Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) in 1985. Iran holds observer status in South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and both Iran and Pakistan are ‘observers’ in Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Trade between Pakistan and Iran has reached a significant level over the years. There are about 300 tradable items for trading between Pakistan and Iran. Essentially, cooperation in energy sector remains to be the most vital and significant aspect of economic relations between Pakistan and Iran. The two countries have long discussed the export of gas from South Pars Field in Iran to Pakistan. The project, Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline, which is now also called as peace pipeline, was first put forward in early 1990s since then there have been several rounds of talks on the feasibility and mechanism of the project. The project aims at constructing a 2,700 km long gas pipeline from South Pars to Karachi and then to New Delhi. The project was formally announced in 2002 and feasibility studies were conducted by 2005. India attaches security concerns to the route of the gas pipeline as the land-based pipeline will cross from Balochistan, the trilateral talks have been boycotted by the country since 2007. Therefore, Pakistan and Iran have been pursuing the project bilaterally. The project was formally signed between Pakistan and Iran in 2009 and a deal for the construction of the pipeline was signed in March 2010. The same month, India proposed Iran to resume the dialogue on the IPI project. The project is expected to be completed by2015.

“There has been a clear shift in Iran’s policy of unequivocally supporting Pakistan in its stance on Kashmir in decades following independence of Pakistan to depriving Pakistan of its vote in favour of its stated policy on Kashmir.”
For past few years, Iran has been under stringent international scrutiny and criticism by the West regarding its nuclear program. The country not only faced criticism but sanctions also. However, Pakistan unequivocally supported Iran for its right to access nuclear technology.

Keeping in view the traditional socio-cultural similarities and commonality of interests in many spheres, Pakistan and Iran seem to retain friendly relations in future. Despite international pressure and criticism the two countries have maintained cordial relationship. However, the differences and divergence of interests in some areas, including periodic border security tension remain a cause of concern. Maintaining a friendly equation is a necessity for both the countries. For this, both the countries are required to foster their partnership in all possible spheres.

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