Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi
FORTUNATELY and unfortunately, both Iran and Pakistan share a history of good and bad memories in their relationship. Better never than late, today Pakistan and Iran have reaffirmed to mend their fences by not allowing the third party to exploit the situation for the ulterior geopolitical end. PM Khan’s two days official visit to Iran (April 21-22) provides a sheet anchor to end the misunderstanding and weave a new tapestry of relationship based on mutual benefits between the two neighbourly Islamic states. And pragmatically, despite some geopolitical intricacies, a new era of the RCD-type economic cooperation and development can subsequently be revisited via Iran’s entry into the CPEC development trajectory.
Given insight into the Cold War period of history, while CENTO paved the way for cooperation in security matters, the desire for multilateral economic cooperation was invented through the creation of the Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD) in 1964 among Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey. While as a dependable ally, Tehran incorporated reconciliatory measures between Afghanistan and Pakistan when tensions grew during the 1960s over the Durand Line demarcation differences Moreover, relations between Iran and Pakistan remained friendly during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan 1979-89 since both Iran and Pakistan strongly opposed the Soviet move and, throughout the war, aided the anti-Soviet Mujahideen under the umbrella of the American CIA.
However, in the post-Cold War era— characterized by new geopolitics— Pakistan-Iran relations gradually deteriorated. Obviously, the Post 9/11 era marked a beginning of trust-deficit between Tehran and Islamabad, as Tehran disliked Pakistan’s support for the military operation as facilitating the presence of U.S. forces in the region. This polarisation divided Tehran and Islamabad in two opposite camps. Pakistan supported the Taliban, hailing from Pashtun areas of Afghanistan; and Iran fostered support for the Northern Alliance— comprising the non-Pashtun groups such as Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen, and Hazaras— this group was also supported by India. Islamabad’s tactical support for the Sunni Taliban government (1996-2001) paved the way forward for India – Iran geopolitical affinity—to work closer in an anti-Taliban coalition – thereby supporting the Northern Alliance. Yet, it is a bitter truth that both Iran and Saudi Arabia used Pakistan as a battlefield for their proxy/ sectarian wars.
In the present context, the issue of terrorism via non-state actors in the Balochistan region remains one of the graves security challenge for Islamabad. The illegal movement between the south-eastern Iran and Pakistan’s Balochistan is the core of problem. The Baloch dissidents intermittently travel through the border area with little regard for the border immigration, thereby causing unremitting problems for the Iranian Guards Corps and the Frontier Corps of Pakistan. Pakistan faces a security dilemma posed by the imbruing insurgencies—piloted by the dissident Baloch or non-state actors along the Iran-Pakistan border. Though the Pakistani security agencies view all these happenings as a deliberate act of Indian intelligence to destabilize Balochistan, some clandestine hands are yet involved in playing their roles that need be examined or identified by the security establishments in both the countries. Given the pivotal geostrategic location of Balochistan (the pivot of the CPEC and the Gwadar Sea port), the growing negative role of international actors’ is undeniable (US + India + Afghanistan and Iran).
India has been simultaneously developing its ties with both Iran and Afghanistan in order to outplay CPEC’s role in the region. India has also been trying to strengthen its maritime ties via Chahbahar port—where India’s strategy to counter China’s influence in the region is already active. In this backdrop, Islamabad needs to craft a multipolar strategy via confidence and trust building measures between Tehran-Kabul-Islamabad. Pakistan has justifiably shared its concern with the Iranian authorities over the recent killing of 14 people in Ormara in Balochistan. Pakistan has intermittently blamed Iran-based militants for launching attacks on its soil. In the meanwhile, the Iranian envoy said Pakistan and Iran could promote their institutional cooperation in a variety of economic, political, security and cultural spheres through a long-term strategic approach. “The Khan-Rouhani talks (April 232-23) advocated the importance of deepening and reinforcing bilateral ties based on principles of national interest, territorial integrity and mutual respect for national sovereignty.” We agreed to increase the security cooperation of the two countries, our border forces, our intelligence forces,” president Rouhani said. The establishment of a joint rapid response border management force for curbing terrorist activities, is an astute strategy and the modalities in this regard must be wisely evaluated.
Pakistan and Iran are the leading founders of ECO, and at present both the states are remaking new alliances and partnerships seeking fulfilment of mutual interests. These areas of mutual interests include the fight against terrorism; illegal cross-border movements; drug-trade and the Balochistan insurgency. In the meanwhile, Iran has generated a great interest in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) for economic and trade collaborations. Steps need to be pragmatically taken to engage Iran as an important ally. Obviously, Turkey, Russia and China could help make trust building process between Iran and Pakistan— mischievously marred by India’s shenanigans. Today, we need to adopt a policy of via media towards both Riyadh and Tehran.
Since gas is the cheapest source of energy production , an already delayed Iran Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project needs serious deliberations. This project is not only considered as a Pipeline but also the economic Lifeline. This project carries a win-a-win position for both Iran and Pakistan. And yet a multilateral regional cooperation dialogue among Pakistan, Turkey, and Iran could be formed to promote mutual benefits since the relations between Iran and Turkey are gaining a good pace via positive Russian role. A call back to the RCD agreement via CPEC’s positive trajectory could also be an instrumental development. Today, Pakistan needs a revisionist neighbourhood policy based on our vision of sustainable partnership.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum- analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.