Pakistan Iran Relations
PAK IRAN RELATIONS:
Pakistanís Basic Policy toward Islamic Republic of Iran
Pakistan sees Iran as an important neighbour that has geo-strategic location and with which people of Pakistan share common faith, history. Iran, therefore, is a key element in Pakistanís foreign policy. Pakistan believes that maintenance of cordial ties with Iran is important for the regional economic prosperity and security. Pakistan-Iran close relations are a source of strength not only for both the countries but also for the region.
Pak-Iran Cooperation at Pakistan-Iran Relations
Iran is an important neighbour of Pakistan because of its geo-strategic location and bonds of common faith, history, culture and other deep-rooted links between the two countries. Iran, therefore, figures high in Pakistanís foreign policy. Pakistan-Iran close relations are a source of strength not only for both the countries but also for the region.
Iran was one of the first few countries that recognised Pakistan soon after its independence. The two countries share perceptions on important regional and international issues and cooperate closely in multilateral fora including the UN, OIC, ECO and D-8.
Although Pakistan and Iran have difference of opinion over Afghanistan, the two countries have similar interests in Afghanistan viz. cessation of hostilities, preservation of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan and return of millions of refugees to their homeland.
Pak-Iran relations are marked by frequent contacts at the highest level, which provide focus and direction to the bilateral relationship. Cooperation between Pakistan and Iran in various areas like Trade and Commerce, Science and technology, Defence, Arts and Culture, Tourism, Communications, Oil and Gas, etc has been improving steadily. Pakistan-Iran Joint Economic Commission (JEC) has held Eleven sessions so far.
Major exports of Pakistan to Iran include Rice, Yarn, Synthetic Fibres, Paper and Paperboard, etc. Pakistan on the other hand, imports Petroleum and Petroleum Products, Fruits, Vegetables, Ores and Concentrates of Iron & Steel and Raw Cotton from Iran. The balance of trade, as may be seen above, remains heavily tilted in Iranís favour. Iran can help reduce trade gap by importing rice, wheat, yarn, paper, surgical goods, sports goods and toys from Pakistan.
Pakistan-Iran Joint Economic Commission
Pak-Iran economic relations are governed by Pakistan-Iran Joint Economic Commission (JEC), which was established in 1986. It provides a useful institutional framework in the identification of areas to promote economic and commercial cooperation between the two countries. It also periodically reviews and monitors the implementation of various decisions taken in this regard by the representatives of the two countries.
The 11th session of the Pak-Iran Joint Economic Commission was held in Islamabad in March 1999. The Coordinators of Pakistan-Iran JEC met in Islamabad on April 26-28, 2000 to review implementation of the decisions taken during the 11th Session. The meeting concluded with signing of an MoU to implement the pending decisions promptly.
PAKISTAN IRAN CURRENT RELATIONS :
Pakistan-Iran relations since 9/11 have considerably improved from earlier frostiness in the 1990s due to the Taliban factor in Afghanistan. Hence Pakistan is increasingly concerned that any harm or destabilisation of Iran through any external military action may create problems not only for Iran but also for Pakistan. In this light, Pakistan has urged both countries to defuse the tense situation through mutual dialogue and consultations.
While the Iranians seem to be adamant in pursuit of their nuclear programme for perceived national interest, the US is aggressively pursuing its global agenda for "regime change" and re-shaping of the Middle East.
In truth, Pakistan's role in US-Iran crisis is very limited as Pakistan has neither the clout nor the credibility to play any effective mediatory role as evidenced . On the one hand, there is a self-willed superpower that has a mind and agenda of its own, while on the other hand, there is Iran whose clerical leadership is equally inflexible and rigid with a history of US defiance for almost quarter a century.
If the surgical strikes by the US or by Israel against Iran's nuclear installations, are going to complicate Pakistan's strategic problems. Not only refugees could flood into the border province of Balochistan it would add to the tense situation as Balochistan. Also, any military confrontation will place Pakistan in an awkward position of siding between a strategic ally and a traditional Muslim friend and a neighbour.
Pakistan would be the last country to see Iran suffer or go down in any confrontation. The latter's destabilisation could send shock waves of agitation in the Islamic world, especially Pakistan where anti-US sentiment is already simmering. Moreover, this will put added pressures on Musharraf government - already beset with a plethora of domestic problems.
The US may harbour some expectations from Pakistan as a "strategic ally" for greater cooperation that Pakistan may be unable or unwilling to fulfill. Inability to take sides could result in spoiling relations with the US. On the other hand, the Iranians may feel disappointed with Pakistan as the latter acquiesces to US pressures and looks the other way in its difficult times, though Pakistan has explicitly stated that it will not allow its facilities to be used against Iran.
The US, if successful in Iran, will feel further emboldened to pursue its strategic objective of "dealing with" Pakistan's nuclear programme. Notwithstanding all assurances of bonhomie, Pakistan stands in the dock for alleged nuclear export and smuggling charges. With non-proliferation taking a centrestage after terrorism under re-elected Bush administration, Pakistan may come under greater heat in the coming years. Many observers feel that Pak-US friendship is opportunistic and not a durable strategic relationship. Two unequal powers - a global and a small power - cannot get along for long and will soon diverge in their outlooks, it is argued.
GAS PIPELINE PROJECT:
Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project is also in the doldrums as the US seems determined to pressurise and isolate Iran over the nuclear issue. The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in her recent tour to India and Pakistan expressed US "concern" about the pipeline project and termed it as an act of "rewarding" Iran.
Should Pakistan's security environment deteriorate, there is a real danger that India-Pak ongoing rapprochement may also suffer: a weakened and threatened Pakistan may be overly defensive and prove non-cooperative to India.
Under these circumstances, it seems difficult for Pakistan to persuade Iran to revoke its nuclear programme since it is considered cardinal to the latter's national security. After all, Pakistan too pursued in building its own nuclear programme on putative national interests despite worldwide protestations. Moreover, the Iranian clerical leadership's survival and credibility will come under grater stake if it forswears its nuclear programme.
As pressure builds up against Iran, it may find it difficult to continue playing off the EU-3 against the US. The US and Israel, already smarting under Iran's hostile policies and alleged support to Hizbullah, Hamas and Palestinian groups, are leery of clerical regime's future nuclear weapons programme. This is seen as threatening to the Israel-US interests in the region.
Needless to say that the US hubris stems in part from its successful efforts in toppling unpopular regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, installing of new regimes, extracting willing obedience from countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia Gulf and lack of popular upsurge in the Arab streets against its military occupations.
US hope is that similar apathy will follow since the Islamic world is too divided to put up a united front. Perhaps it wants to play up on the Shia-Sunni divide and harbour the hope that many of the Arab leaders world would look the other way or acquiesce in action against Iran as the latter did in case of Iraq.
Iran cannot be compared to Iraq, assert many observers. The latter's size, population, military prowess and nationalist ideology are seen as assets that would make US or Israel think twice before launching any military adventure. But then this was equally claimed about Iraq as an Arab "regional military power". While Iraq's occupation is not a total success, it has not been a domestic fiasco for Bush administration either as his re-election has demonstrated; in fact, it is seen as vindication of his policies and actions.
By characterising Iran as "axis of evil" and "an outpost of tyranny" the US views Iran's clerical leaders as "unreliable", who are biding their time in avenging past humiliation through building of nuclear weapons. Most of the US perceptions are shaped by Israel which is egging on the US to act before it is too late.
Caught between a rock and hard place, Pakistan can do precious little except hoping that things do not come to such a pass. It is hoped that the six-party dialogue formula as followed by the US with North Korea could be replicated in case of Iran. Needless to say that for any defusing of tensions both Iran and US will have to make some concessions.
On Pakistan's part, an overriding wish is that this crisis does not blow over and that Iran is able to work out some peaceful arrangements with the US under the principle of "give and take". A workable compromise could spare it any military confrontation.
While harnessing nuclear energy is a country's right the prevailing norms against nuclear proliferation have grown very stringent. The world after 9/11 is much different. What was possible before is difficult now. Pakistan desires that Iran should take a decision that it best for its national interests to preserve its national sovereignty and integrity and avoid any needless confrontation.
The Iran-Pakistan nexus
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
News of the kidnapping of Iranian guards at the Iran-Pakistan border and Iran's accusation of US complicity with Sunni extremists operating from within Pakistan have ignited renewed interest in the ups and downs of relations between Iran and Pakistan.
Historically, different factors have affected Iranian-Pakistani political relations since the creation of Pakistan. As neighbors and Muslim countries, the two have always had close relations.
Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan soon after its independence in August 1947.
During the first decade of independence, successive Pakistani governments attached high priority to establishing bilateral relations with Iran. In the early 1970s, Pakistan's success in ending a powerful separatist insurgency in the province of Balochistan, bordering Iran, would not have been possible without the support of the Iranian military. This, in fact, set the precedence for Pakistan's involvement in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan during the 1980s.
During the 1990s, relations between the two countries declined as a result of two concurrent developments: the rise of anti-Shi'ite terrorist activities in Pakistan and the assassination of Iran's counsel general, Sadeq Ganji, in Lahore in 1990, and subsequently the coming to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
When the Taliban captured the Afghan city of Maza-e-Sharif, they not only massacred thousand of Hazara Shi'ites, they also murdered scores of Iranian diplomats, straining Iran's bilateral ties with Pakistan, which at the time backed the Taliban.
When General Pervez Musharraf came to power in 1999, he visited Tehran and promised to address the terrorist activities in Pakistan; subsequently relations between the two countries improved. After the execution of Ganji's assassin by the Pakistani government in February 2001, Iran gained a new level of confidence in Pakistan's determination to curb anti-Shi'ite extremism in that country.
Still, as long as the Taliban remained in power in Kabul, supported by Pakistan, and Iran was committed to backing the anti-Taliban forces, relations between Iran and Pakistan were held hostage to some extent by the developments inside Afghanistan. The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States and the subsequent fall of the Taliban paved the way for the mending of bilateral relations.
Immediately after the Taliban's demise, Iran's foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, paid a two-day visit to Islamabad and reached an understanding with his Pakistani hosts on the situation in Afghanistan. Both sides agreed to assist in the establishment of a broad-based multi-ethnic government in Afghanistan under the United Nations' auspices.
Another important turning point in Iran-Pakistan relations transpired with president Mohammad Khatami's visit to Pakistan in December 2002, the first by an Iranian president in 10 years. During the visit, both sides discussed how to improve bilateral relations and regional security, focusing especially on Pakistani-Indian relations, in the light of Iran's declared willingness to mediate between them. As a result of Khatami's visit, Iran and Pakistan signed four agreements and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) aimed at enhancing their bilateral relationship, mainly in the fields of trade, plant quarantine, science and technology.
Pakistan's prime minister, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, paid a return visit to Iran in October 2003, and reached a landmark preferential trade agreement. Another agreement was on the revitalization of a trilateral commission among Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan aimed at pushing for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Jamali visited Iran again in February 2004 to attend the Developing Eight (D-8) meeting.
In March 2004, Iran's first vice president, Reza Aref, visited Pakistan. His talks centered on further strengthening the existing cooperation between the two countries. The following agreements were signed during Aref's visit: a preferential trade agreement; an MoU between the export promotion bureaus of the two countries; an MoU to establish a joint investment company; an instrument of ratification of the agreement for avoidance of double taxation; and a customs cooperation agreement.
The most important issue in Iranian-Pakistani economic relations is the low level of economic exchange; both countries need to encourage and increase relations in this sphere. Trade between Pakistan and Iran during 2005 was barely more than half a billion US dollars. Still, this must be considered an improvement over the previous years: trade between the two countries declined in 2001-02 from $394 million to $166 million. Pakistan lost Iranian markets for transport equipment and leather because of reports of delays in shipments of the poor quality of products.
A report prepared by the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry stated that the erection of unnecessary trade barriers caused a reduction in Pakistan's exports to Iran in 2002. Iran canceled an order for Pakistani wheat because of its poor quality. The main reason for the trade deficit between the two countries lay in the differential between Pakistan's exports to Iran and its importation of crude petroleum and furnace oil from Iran at a cost of $141 million (in 2002). In late 2002, Pakistan began to import Iranian electricity for Balochistan province.
On a more positive note, the recent economic reforms in Iran have improved the climate for foreign investment, including by Pakistani companies. Also, Iran has been encouraging the private sector to do business with the neighboring countries. In this regard, the Mutual Economic Cooperation Commission has prepared the ground for economic ties between Iran and Pakistan. The 13th session of this commission, held in December 2002 in Islamabad, completed its work with a note of success, pushing for the enhancement of opportunities for the private sectors of both countries to increase their exchanges.
During 2003-04, the volume of bilateral trade was about $376 million. Trade and economic cooperation was discussed in detail at the 14th session of the Joint Economic Commission held in Islamabad in March 2004. The whole range of economic activity between the two countries was reviewed and ways and means to enhance cooperation were discussed.
The second issue that affects Iranian-Pakistani economic relations is the problem of petroleum smuggling between the two countries. The problem has increased in recent years, fueled by the differential in oil prices across the common border. While several rounds of negotiations have taken place between Iranian and Pakistani officials, they have yet to yield results.
Without doubt, boosting security is important for encouraging commercial relations and preventing cross-border smuggling, notwithstanding the alarming news of kidnapping of more than a dozen Iranian guards at the Iran-Pakistan border this month.
In spite of the above-mentioned problems, there are hopeful signs that the economic and other ties between Iran and Pakistan will improve, particularly if the much-talked-about "peace pipeline" between Iran and India transiting through Pakistan turns into reality; the estimated profit for Pakistan is one-half billion dollars annually. This aside, the two countries are now laying the emphasis on the establishment of a fiber-link network and improved communications and transport links, including the railway systems.
Impact of regional issues
While Iran and Pakistan are neighbors, their regional outlooks are somewhat different as a result of the different type and nature of national security challenges and threats facing each country.
India: Relations with India are an important issue that affects Iranian-Pakistani relations. Pakistan is concerned about the North-South Corridor that Iran and India seek to establish together with Russia. In the light of Iran's good relations with India, Pakistan is concerned about the impact of those relations on its disputes with India - over the core issue of Kashmir as well as other regional and geopolitical issues. Iran has declared its willingness to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir. In his visit to Pakistan, Khatami stated: "We will do everything possible to remove tensions between India and Pakistan." In 2004, when tensions between India and Pakistan escalated, Iran was the first country to contact Musharraf and Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee with a view to defusing the crisis.
The proposed Iran-India gas pipeline via Pakistan remains problematic. On the one hand, this could act as an ideal platform for initiating regional economic interdependence. Iran is the fifth-richest country in mineral reserves, possessing some 10% of world's oil reserves and 14.9% of the world's natural-gas reserves, simultaneously serving as the connection link among a diverse set of regions, the Persian Gulf, the Caspian Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the South Asian subcontinent. In both India and Pakistan, energy demands exceed supplies, while Iran is in an ideal position to play the role of supplier.
While in principle there is no problem between Iran and Pakistan over the proposed gas pipeline, India's lingering security concerns, eg concern that Pakistan would use it as security leverage in the future, hamper the realization of this important project.
Afghanistan: Pakistan and Iran have shared the fallout of decades of upheaval in Afghanistan, partly in the form of millions of Afghan refugees, many of whom have not returned to Afghanistan since the Taliban's downfall in 2001. Since then, Iran and Pakistan have tried to improve relations strained for a decade by policy differences over Afghanistan, both sides coming to a recognition of the fact that sustained peace and stability are in their interests and not only those of the people of Afghanistan.
As a result, both Tehran and Islamabad gave support to the political process initiated in Afghanistan by the Bonn Agreement (among the Afghan political factions) while extending a helping hand to President Hamid Karzai's government in its efforts to rebuild Afghanistan. A first step was the signing of the Kabul Declaration on Good Neighborly Relations by Iran and Pakistan on December 22, 2002.
A serious problem affecting Iran and Pakistan from Afghanistan is the burgeoning drug traffic, which has served as the main financial source for extremist groups, including the remnants of the Taliban. The illicit drug-smuggling networks also serve as a conduit for the transfer of small arms and explosives and for human trafficking. Drug traffickers have been using Iran's territory as the shortest major land route for the transit of narcotics from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Europe.
Iran spends $400 million annually in its effort to control the drug traffic, and Iran and Pakistan need to bolster their security cooperation in their fight against this menace. Both countries could cooperate in attracting international aid on this project as its has much greater repercussions than purely regional ones. On the contrary, the matter affects many countries around the globe, requiring a globalized strategy led by the regional states.
Security cooperation: Over the past few years, Iran and Pakistan have taken several concrete steps to increase their security cooperation, including:
The Pakistani-Iranian Joint Ministerial Commission on security was established in November 2001 to deal with the problems of terrorism, smuggling, sectarian violence, extremism and narcotics. The initial meeting of this commission was held in September 2002.
There has been a renewal in consultations between the foreign ministers of both countries on bilateral relations and on regional and international developments. The first of such consultations was held in July 2001.
Regular interactions between Pakistani and Iranian intelligence officials have been ongoing since October 2001. These interactions are held between senior-level Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Iranian intelligence officials and focus on the future of Afghanistan, Iran's role in seven cultural centers in Pakistan, cross-border broadcasts, etc.
Both countries have agreed to solve security and border issues in a special security committee.
Presence of foreign powers: Iran and Pakistan have somewhat divergent perspectives with respect to the presence of foreign powers in the region. Iran is concerned about the post-September 11 military cooperation between the US and Pakistan. However, both countries share long-term perspectives on how to deal with the intrusiveness of foreign powers in the region. Both Iran and Pakistan, for instance, opposed the United States' unilateral action in Iraq, calling for a central role for the UN.
However, although Iran and Pakistan have reached a basic geostrategic understanding regarding both Afghanistan and Iraq, their relations may be harmed as a result of the hostility between Iran and the US and Pakistan's close relations with both the US and Israel; repeatedly during 2005, Pakistani officials stated their steadfast opposition to any US military strike against Iran via Pakistani territory and/or airspace.
Nuclear cooperation: During the past couple of years, the revelations concerning the transfer of nuclear technology to Iran by the Pakistani network led by Abdul Qadeer Khan have ignited heated debates and discussions about the nature of nuclear cooperation between the two countries. Iran is concerned about the reports of Pakistan's nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia.
Iranian concern is fueled by, among other things, unconfirmed reports of a secret Saudi-Pakistani agreement, harking back to a high-level visit to Pakistan by a Saudi prince in 2003 after a Saudi defense official's visit to Pakistan's nuclear facilities, prompting serious speculations in Tehran that the Pakistani nuclear network headed by Khan might have traded far more sensitive nuclear technology and know-how to the Saudis than it did to Iran. After all, Khan has visited Saudi Arabia on a number of occasions, albeit for the benign purpose of attending conferences, and the Sunni connections between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia run pretty deep.
Saudi officials have denied rumors of an oil-for-nukes pact between Riyadh and Islamabad, but Iranian policymakers are put on guard by such rumors, deemed credible in the light of Pakistan's history, its close ties to Saudi Arabia, and its cash dependency on the oil-rich Saudis. Without doubt, a potential motivating factor, other than Israel, for a Saudi nuclear-weapons program is the alleged existence of such a program in Iran, which in turn may have been influenced by the threats of Saudi nuclearization.
Iran is pleased by the recent statements by Musharraf that Pakistan's nuclear assets are under strict custodial controls and that any clandestine proliferation network has been dismantled.
In conclusion, Iran's and Pakistan's concerns and interests are interlinked in the new regional and international climate. New problems as well as new opportunities have been created for both countries, affecting their bilateral and multilateral relations, since the events of September 11, 2001. Both countries need to devote more energy to boost their economic trade, enhance their security cooperation, and to identify practical ways to tackle the problems facing the region.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume X11, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu.
(Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us for information on sales, syndication and republishing.)
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