P.M. Imran Khan’s Strategic Trip to Iran
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Iran on April 21, this year. During his two-day trip, he met Iran’s Supreme Leader Seyyed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
In their meeting, Prime Minister Khan and President Rouhani discussed the entire spectrum of bilateral relations, and the means to further bolster and expand their relations in diverse fields, as the joint press conference between the two leaders showed on April 22.
Pakistan and Iran have agreed to set up a Joint Rapid Reaction Force to guard the common borders to stop the infiltration of terrorists.
In his address, Prime Minister Khan outlined Pakistan’s stance on terrorism by stating that the country will not allow any militant group to operate from its soil. He elaborated: “I felt that the issue of terrorism is going to increase differences between Pakistan and Iran…it is very crucial for both countries to resolve this issue.”
Both the leaders agreed that Pakistan and Iran were affected by the war in Afghanistan and the peace in Afghanistan “is in the interest of the two countries and the entire region”.
Prime Minister Khan referred to the brutal incident of April 18, 2019 near Ormara, Pakistani side of the Balochistan, in which 14 personnel belonging to the armed forces were shot dead and Pakistan lodged a strong protest with Iran over its inaction against the terror groups believed to be involved in the Ormara killings” and stated that his visit would restore ‘trust’ between both countries.
In this regard, Pakistan’ Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on April 20, 2019: “Actionable forensic evidence has been shared with the Iranian government showing links of the terrorists with the neighbouring country…We expect Iran to take visible action against the elements who used its soil to carry out terrorist attack in Balochistan”.
Qureshi further stated: “The Baloch Raaji-Aajohi-e-Sangar (BRAS), an alliance of three Baloch terrorist organisdations, has claimed responsibility for the incident…The Baloch terrorist outfits have set up their logistic camps inside the Iranian border area and it has also been conveyed to the Iranian authorities… Like Afghanistan, the Iranian border will also be fenced”.
In February, this year, 207 Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) were killed in a suicide car bombing in the Iran’s province of Sistan-Baluchestan, located near the border with Pakistan. The Sunni Muslim extremist group Jaish al-Adl claimed responsibility for the attack. Tehran called on Islamabad to take action against the militant group.
However, in the joint statement, President Rouhani further said: “No third country will be allowed to influence friendly ties between Iran and Pakistan…unfortunately some tensions were witnessed in the border areas in the recent past where terrorists perpetrated their nefarious acts”.
Rouhani asserted that both neighbours have also agreed to bolster their trade and economic ties. He further stated: “We are also interested in establishing links between Gwadar and Chahbhar ports in order to strengthen our commerce relations.”
President Hassan maintained that his country was ready to meet the oil and gas requirements of Pakistan. He explained: “We have already taken effective measures to construct the gas pipeline with the Pakistani border. Iran is also ready to increase power supply to Pakistan [for meeting electricity shortage].”
Nevertheless, in geo-political terms, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s trip to Iran has strategic importance not only for both the countries, but also for the entire region. Economic activity is going to accelerate in the region owing to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is part of China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative or BRI. US and India has already opposed this project. Tehran being the neighbouring country cannot be ruled out of this project. Iran has almost 1000 km border with Pakistan’s province of Balochistan and Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchestan. Gwadar seaport is central point of the CPEC projects. So, Tehran cannot ignore its importance. Gwadar port located in Pakistani side of Balochistan is going to be emerged as the biggest port in region. The other major project for Pakistan is Iran-Pakistan pipeline (IP); this project will be useful for CPEC as well.
During the visit of Iran’s Vice President for International Affairs Ali Seedlou to Pakistan, the two countries signed three agreements on November 13, 2012 as part of Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) to promote economic cooperation, timely completion of Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project and electricity import from Iran. Both the sides agreed to increase bilateral trade to $5 billion mark. Iran which already completed its portion of gas pipeline had decided to invest $500 million assistance in building Pakistani part of the project.
In this respect, the then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had also visited Pakistan. In the third trilateral summit at Islamabad, on February 17, 2012, the then Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari, former Iranian President Ahmadinejad and the then Afghan President Hamid Karzai put their heads together to forge regional cooperation in multifaceted areas. Zardari vowed to fight US pressure on the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline (IP), saying that the “external forces can not undermine bilateral relations.”
Afterwards, the government led by the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did not implement Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline owing to America’s pressure.
In March, 2018, the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif visited Pakistan and helped to re-establish diplomatic and security cooperation between the two countries over border management, as American CIA, Indian RAW and Israeli Mossad arranged terror attacks in Pakistan’s Balochistan and Sistan-Baluchestan to manipulate ties between Islamabad and Tehran. Due to misunderstanding created by these agencies, Pakistan and Iran has long been accusing the infiltration of militants from each other’s side of border.
It is notable that Pak-Iranian relations had already become tense after Pakistan’s security forces arrested Indian spy Kulbhushan Yadhav on March 3, 2016. In a video statement, Kulbhushan openly admitted that he was the serving agent of Indian RAW in Balochistan province, and during his stay, he contacted various Baloch separatist leaders and insurgents, including Dr Allah Nazar Baloch to execute the task to damage CPEC. Yadav confessed that he spied for India and was “assigned with the task to create unrest in Karachi and Balolchitan…to destabilize Pakistan…he was captured, while heading Iran.”
It of particular attention that in the recent years, CIA, RAW and Mossad which are covertly assisting the Baloch nationalist leaders and separatist elements have arranged many terrorism-related attacks in Pakistan’s province of Balochistan and Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchestan. On many occasions, Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Jundullah claimed responsibility for the terrorist acts.
Now, the President Donald Trump has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal and imposed sanctions on Iran. He also threatened to impose sanctions on any country who will continue trade with Tehran. Islamabad rejected American pressure-diplomacy and continued trade with Tehran. Taking note of American war-mongering diplomacy, Tehran could abandon the US-sponsored India-Afghanistan Chabahar project and could join the CPEC project. In fact, Pakistan is playing a balancing role in the Muslim World in general and the Middle East in particular.
It is worth-mentioning that on January 5, 2016, the then Adviser to Pakistan’s former Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz stated that Pakistan will continue to play its positive and mediatory role to ease tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Prime Minister Imran Khan already announced that Pakistan is trying “to play the role of a mediator in the Yemen war involving Saudi Arabia…Pakistan will play its role in ending conflicts in the region.” Likewise, Khan has also stated that Islamabad will mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran as part of creating unity of the Islamic Ummah.
Undoubtedly, we can conclude that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s strategic trip to Iran will not only strengthen relations between Tehran and Islamabad, but will also bring about positive changes in the region.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations