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November 13, 2020

An overview of Pak-Iran ties


November 13, 2020

LAHORE: At a juncture when Iran’s ever-growing skepticism related to Pak-Saudi ties and the regular Islamabad-Washington DC engagement have dented Tehran’s relationship with Islamabad to some extent, if not much, concerted endeavours from both sides to enhance the reciprocal economic and border cooperation continue.

The current visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Pakistan for talks on bilateral collaboration and regional issues is seemingly one such effort to renew the interactive trust, augmented by the correlative affinities of faith and culture, though policy-makers in Islamabad have made extra efforts over the years to balance their ties with Riyadh and Tehran.

This is Javad Zarif’s fourth visit to Pakistan during the last two and a half years, according to the “Xinhua” news agency of China.

Sharing a 959-km long land border, the bilateral trade between Pakistan and Iran stands at $359 million only, obstructed chiefly by tariff and non-tariff barriers.

However, according to the September 20, 2020 statement of Iranian Consul General, Reza Nazeri, in Karachi, Iran was ready to export petrochemical, steel and liquefied petroleum products to Pakistan in return of rice, meat and other agriculture products in a barter trade arrangement.

Although the Anglo-American alliance during the Cold War had helped Pakistan and Iran build a rather strong foundation for a stable relationship, innumerable geopolitical challenges and domestic dynamics of both countries has led to bubbles, turbulence and inconsistencies in their bilateral engagement.

In recent past, there have been a few incidents that have marred the already-strained Pak-Iran ties.

For example, in May 2020, an improvised explosive device had struck a Pakistani military vehicle in Buleda (district Kech) Balochistan near the Pak-Iran border, killing one Major of the Pakistan Army and five soldiers.

The military personnel were returning to their base after conducting a routine patrol in the area. The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), which has bases on the Iranian soil, claimed responsibility for the attack.

It was in the backdrop of this regrettable incident that COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa had called Iran’s Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, Maj Gen Mohammad Bagheri, to express his concern over the attack.

According to a press release issued by the ISPR, both countries had pledged to enhance security measures on either side of the border. A Pakistani media house had reported: “Gen Bajwa rightly told Gen Bagheri that Pakistan had started fencing the border but would require mutual cooperation to ensure border security and to stem smuggling activity which was also used by terrorists and narcotics traffickers to cover their movement”.

In April 2019, militants, wearing army uniforms, had targeted the Pakistan’s Coastal Highway.

The assailants had barricaded the road, stopped three or four buses travelling from Ormara to Gwadar and killed 14 persons including 11 personnel of the navy, air force and Coast Guards.

Pakistan had lodged a very strong protest with the Iranian government, saying that the intelligence reports regarding the bases of the militants in Iran and their activities were shared with the authorities in Tehran, but nothing had been done to stop the terrorists from carrying out their nefarious designs against the Pakistani security personnel.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had immediately visited Iran and the two countries agreed to set up a Joint Rapid Reaction Force to fight terrorism.

In 1947, as history tells us, Iran was one of the first countries to recognise Pakistan after its independence, though sectarianism in the 1980’s had played a key role in straining the mutual ties between the two nations.

Iranian support for Pakistan dates back to the 1960s when Iran supplied Pakistan with American military weaponry and spare parts after America cut off their military aid to Pakistan.

When a widespread insurgency had engulfed Balochistan in 1973, Iran had provided Pakistan with military hardware including 30 Cobra helicopters, intelligence and $200 million in aid.

The two countries were members of the Baghdad Pact known as CENTO, which was an alliance against the former USSR during the Cold War era. They, along with Turkey, had formed the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD), which later became a larger group known as Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO), also joined by the Central Asian republics and Afghanistan. During the 1965 war with India, Iran had sided with Pakistan.

Even in the 1970s, Tehran had maintained good ties with Islamabad and this was apparent from Iran’s support to Pakistan during its 1971 war with India.

The political instability in Iran following the 1979 revolution and Iran’s ensuing war with Iraq were also major factors for the collapse of the organisation.

During the Soviet-Afghan war, Pakistan largely supported the Pashtun rebels and Iran backed the Shia Tajik rebels and the Hazaras although all the groups were largely fighting against the Soviet Union. Post-Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Afghan mujahideen broke into several factions. Pakistan supported the Taliban in Afghanistan and Iran opposed the Taliban. In 2005, Iran and Pakistan had conducted US$500 million of trade. The land border at Taftan is the conduit for trade in electricity and oil. Iran is extending its railway network towards this region.

In 2007–08, annual Pakistan merchandise trade with Iran consisted of $256 million in imports and $218.6 million in export.

In 2010, Tehran has provided 50 million Euros to Pakistan for laying of 170 km transmission line for the import of 1000MW of electricity from Iran in 2009. Pakistan was then importing 34MW of electricity daily from Iran.

Iran had also offered to construct a motorway to connect the two countries.

The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline was seen as a crystallising point which again halted as the deal faced multiple hindrances in the form of American displeasure and an economic crisis in Pakistan.

The deal came to the fore in 2010 when both Iran and Pakistan finalised a US$ 7.5 billion project that allowed Iran to supply Pakistan with up to 750 million cubic feet of gas daily.

In June 2010, Abdolmalek Rigi, head of a militant outfit “Jundullah” - having branches in both Pakistan and Iran - was hanged at dawn at Tehran’s Evin prison.

Rigi was accused of being behind a series of deadly bombings and raids in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan.

He was arrested in February while on a flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan.

It is pertinent to mention that notable Pakistani political figures like Nusrat Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and her siblings were half Iranian Kurds from maternal side.

Pakistan’s first-ever President Iskander Mirza was married twice to Iranian women.

His first marriage took place on November 24, 1922, when he married an Iranian woman Rifaat Begum.

In October 1954, while in West Pakistan, Mirza’s second marriage took place in Karachi after he fell in love with an Iranian aristocrat Naheed Amirteymour - later called Nahid Mirza. She was a close friend of Begum Nusrat Bhutto. It was this friendship that brought former premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto into the political arena.