“If you do not seek out allies and helpers, then you will be isolated and weak,” quoting an excerpt from the Master Sun treatise on “Art of War”. Pakistan and Iran signed a “Treaty of Perpetual Friendship” in 1950 and have enjoyed a cordial and fraternal relationship. The relations’ peak was in Reza Shah Pahlavi’s era before the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran. The events after the Islamic revolution made it difficult for both countries to continue with the upward trajectory of relations.
Pakistan had to walk a very tightrope in balancing its relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia, who had turned each other nemeses, and the Islamic world was polarized like never before.
Pakistan was one of the casualties of this geo-political cum sectarian struggle. However, regional dynamics are evolving rapidly now, and Saudis and Iranians are trying to normalize relations. China mediated between Iran and Saudi Arabia to help resume their diplomatic ties and resolve further outstanding disputes through dialogue. It is important to note that the positive effect of Saudi-Iran normalization can be seen in the recent warming up of Pakistan-Iran relations. There was an exchange of foreign minister visits, meetings at multilateral forums, and the inauguration of a new border marketplace and some other energy projects. Pakistan and Iran need to cooperate; There exists a convergence of opinion, shared history, culture, faith, and shared challenges. Pakistan and Iran must cooperate based on Geo-economics by decoupling security perspectives from its borders and reimagining borders as routes of connectivity and trading points.
Pakistan formulated its first-ever National Security Policy (NSP) on 14 January 2022. The core theme of this NSP is citizen-centric policymaking and a paradigm shift to Geo-economics. Iran is the southwestern neighbor of Pakistan; it ranks second in natural gas reserves and third in oil reserves globally. Iran can help Pakistan cope with its fossil fuel needs, the bare minimum requirement for industrialization. Talking of energy needs, Pakistan and Iran signed an agreement in Ankara (Turkiye) on the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline in March 2010, through which Iran would provide 750 million cubic feet of natural gas to Pakistan per day. Iran has almost completed its share of work on the project, but due to economic sanctions on Iran, Pakistan could not complete its share of work. The issues Pakistan faced were mainly in the banking sector on how to conduct transactions with Iranian banks, which are under American economic sanctions for alleged terror financing. It is important to note that Pakistan was also on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and could not afford to create further problems for itself by doing transactions with Iranian banks.
Recently some Indian and Middle Eastern news sites picked up media reports without context about the Pak-Iran gas pipeline and claimed that Pakistan has backed out of the project.
These reports were subsequently rebuffed by the former Petroleum Minister of Pakistan, Dr. Mussadik Malik. He rejected the reported assertions, saying they misrepresented his written testimony to the parliament. The project is well underway because we need that gas for our energy security, and we are in touch with the Iranian government to discuss legal and banking issues. Iranian ambassador to Pakistan, Reza Amiri Mughaddam, recently gave an interview to a private media house. He stressed the importance of having strong economic linkages with Pakistan and offered that Iran can help Pakistan meet its energy needs apart from the gas pipeline project. It is pertinent to note that Iran has a surplus of electricity, and Pakistan imports 100 Megawatt electricity from Iran through the Polan-Gwadar power transmission line to meet the energy requirements of Gwadar in Baluchistan. In his recent visit to Pakistan, Iranian foreign minister Amir Abdollahian said we plan to increase the trade volume with Pakistan to 5 billion Euros in the next 5 years.
Talking of trade Pakistan shares a 562-mile-long border with Iran, but it’s mostly porous and sparsely populated on both sides. Additionally, it has been a security challenge for Pakistan and Iran to stop the cross-border movement of terrorists who conduct attacks on the security forces of both countries and escape easily due to the vast amount of uninhabited territory available to them. Pakistan and Iran do have an informal intelligence-sharing mechanism. Still, there is a need for a formal intelligence-sharing and border patrol agreement to curb the menace of terrorism from this border region. In his recent visit to Iran, Army Chief of Pakistan Syed Asim Munir met with his Iranian counterpart and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Core (IRGC) Commander. They agreed on timely and effective intelligence sharing.
Furthermore, there is a realization on the part of both countries that we have to cooperate on Geo-economics for better integration of the region and expand connectivity routes. Iran can link Pakistan to its strategic allies in the Eurasian region, like Azerbaijan and Turkey. Additionally, there is a project named “The Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul Freight Train Project,” implemented between Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan in 2009 and stopped in 2011, was restarted with the train departing from Islamabad on December 21, 2021. The train reached Ankara with 150 tonnes of pink salt load on January 4, 14 days later.
It seems like Pakistan-Iran relations would further improve since the Saudi-Iran normalization, and the progress is evident.
There is positive engagement on projects like the Pak-Iran gas pipeline, which was in cold storage due to U.S. sanctions, and the opening of new border marketplaces are encouraging signs for the future. The increase in legal economic activity between Pakistan and Iran is directly proportional to the decrease in poverty and terrorism in this region. Iranian ambassador to Pakistan, in his recent interview, also showed interest in becoming part of the Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and talked about connecting Gwadar port with Chabahar port. Chabahar is just 112 miles away from Gwadar. Pakistani shipments can reach Central Asian states via Chabahar to Iran and then Turkmenistan, which shares a border with Iran. Geographically, Pakistan and Iran are ideally placed to help alleviate each other economies and better integrate the three intersectional regions. South Asia, Central Asia, and Eurasia.
The author is currently working as a Research Assistant at Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad. His research focuses on the Middle East and its security issues, strategic stability, and Nuclear Non-Proliferation.