Akbar Jan Marwat
IN a democracy, it is the civilian Government that takes care of the diplomatic front.
Keeping good or at least working relations with its immediate neighbours is the sine qua non of the diplomatic success of any government. In our peculiar circumstances, especially after the disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the Army and Gen. Bajwa are increasingly playing an important role in repairing our strained relations with our neighbours especially Iran and Afghanistan. Pakistan’s efforts in improving ties with Afghanistan are well known. It would be elucidating to examine some of the efforts made by Pakistan through Gen Bajwa in mending its ties with Iran. Historically speaking, it has always been a tough task for Pakistan, to maintain friendly ties with both Saudi Arabia and Iran at the same time. This task has became even harder with the fighting in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, were Saudi Arabia and Iran are squarely perched in different camps. Iran sees the Islamic military alliance of Sunni – populated Muslim Countries headed by Saudi Arabia, as Sectarian in nature and basically created against Shias in general and Iran in particular. Saudi Arabia on the other hand, sees this alliance as primarily directed against terrorism.
The support extended to the Saudi Alliance by President Trump further heightened the suspicious of the Iranians. President Trumps tough stand against Iran and his threat to undo the nuclear agreement painstakingly negotiated between the two countries with the help of UK, France, Germany, China and Russia further raises Iranian hackles. The hobnobbing of Israel with Saudi Arabia against Iran makes Iran further suspicious of Saudi Arabia. It was in this backdrop, that General Bajwa made his maiden visit to Iran. One of the main concerns of General Bajwa must have been to placate Iranian concerns regarding Pakistan’s participation in the 39 nation coalition forces to fight terrorism, and to also allow Gen Raheel Sharif to head this Saudi led military alliances. Gen Bajwa apparently reiterated the reality of traditionally close ties between the two countries and expressed the desire that both Pakistan and Iran should not let any other power take advantage of certain temporary misunderstandings between the two brotherly countries.
Gen Bajwa’s most difficult task must have been, to sell Pakistan’s decision to join Saudi led military alliance, to Iran. Gen Bajwa according to Press reports, very capably argued Pakistani case and emphasised upon Iranian authorities, that Pakistan’s decision to join Saudi-led military alliance would not affect Pakistan’s ties with Iran. The General made it very clear to the Iranians, that Pakistan put a lot of store, in its relations with Iran. He further added that Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia should not be objected to by Iran in the same spirit, that Pakistan dose not object to Iran’s relationship with India. Earlier on September 02, 2017, Gen Bajwa had undertaken a crucial visit to Afghanistan in order to remove mutual misunderstandings and improve bilateral relations. Both these visits were in line with Pakistan’s desire to improve relations with neighbouring countries. Pak Army’s role in foreign policy was always recognized by India, but now it seems that both Iran and Afghanistan also went to interact with Pakistani military high command.
It is interesting to note that Gen Bajwa’s visit to Iran was the first by any Pakistani Army Chief in the last 20 years. Gen Bajwa met with both civilian and Army leadership. The dignitaries that he met included: Supreme leader Ayatullah Ali Khameni; President Hassan Rouhani; foreign minister Javid Zareef and Chief of General Staff, General Mohammed Baghari, The Pakistan Gen expressed the wish to expand its ties with Iran in all spheres including military and defence. He reminded his hosts that Pakistan and Iran had such ties in the past also. The Pakistani General also highlighted the steps taken to improve the security along the 900 kilometres long Pak-Iran border.
Pakistan also showed its keenness to cooperate in preventing militants from its Balochistan Province in entering Iran’s Sistan–Balochistan province. Iran’s apprehensions, that Saudi Arabia and some Western powers were using Pakistani soil to destabilize Iran were also dispelled very robustly. The capture of Indian Spy Kulbushan Yadev in Balochistan, and his alleged operational base in Chabahar, from where he confessed to use spies to destabilize Pakistan were also talked about frankly. Most importantly, the threat caused to the region by the Afghanistan based Islamic front, and how to tackle at jointly also, come up for discussions. Both Iran and Pakistan seem to share the view that no military solution can bring peace to Afghanistan. It, however, has to be seen, if Pakistan and Iran can jointly work towards a negotiated resolution of the Afghan conflict.
—The writer is author, senior journalist and entrepreneur based in Islamabad.