Iran-Pakistan Relations Overshadowed by Secondary Factors

Monday, May 16, 2011

Interview with Mohammad Khoddadi
Iran’s Former Consul General to Lahore

The death of Bin Laden has introduced a new factor to already ambiguous relations between Iran and Pakistan. It was presumed that Al-Qaeda units will continue to work independently after the death of its leader and continuation of terrorist operations in the region will provide American and NATO forces with a new excuse to stay in the region. At the same time, the two countries have not come up with a good explanation for the role of Pakistani military in Bahrain uprising. The relationship between Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani intelligence and willingness of the Americans to stay in the region in addition to traditional influence of Saudi Arabia in Pakistan are major reasons for the current situation of relations. Some experts maintain that strategic situation of the two countries calls on them to work together in regional developments. Iran’s former consul general in Lahore does not consider tension with the eastern neighbor in Iran’s best interests and notes that Pakistan is a country where the national anthem is sung in Persian. Mohammad Khoddadi noted that secondary factors always worked to keep Iran distant from Pakistan. He mentions Saudi Arabia as one of those secondary factors, adding, “Iran has more capacities compared to Saudi Arabia to have relations with Pakistan, but Saudi Arabia is making the most of its capacities.”

Q: While Iran’s relations with Pakistan have been traditionally amiable, they have not been as amicable as before in the past few years. What’s the reason?

A: Iran’s relations with Pakistan are one of a kind because Pakistan enjoys more religious and cultural commonalities with us than other regional countries. When studying bilateral relations, however, a few factors should be taken into account. Firstly, Pakistan has been founded on the basis of cultural and religious elements. In fact, Pakistan came into being after Muslims and Hindus could not get along and the country gave new identity to Muslims living on the Indian Subcontinent. Secondly, there have been warm relations between the people of Iran and Pakistan throughout history due to many cultural and religious commonalties. The two countries have been on friendly political terms too. Pakistanis still remember that Iran was the first country to recognize the independence of Pakistan and was the first country to take sides with Pakistan in its war with India. While Pakistan has had problems with other neighbors such as India and Afghanistan, the border with Iran has been the most peaceful border for that country. A secondary factor, however, is always at work to prevent relations from becoming more profound. Therefore, whenever the two countries have been getting close, a terrorist operation or another incident has disrupted that process.

Q: Although there are many religious and cultural commonalties between the two countries, it seems that infrastructural relations are not that strong.

A: Yes. A reason is lack of enough information in either country about the other one which has kept relations in many fields at a low level. Many Iranian businesspeople do not believe that Pakistan enjoys trade capacities and Pakistanis, on the other hand, do not know much about us. For example, Pakistani rice is exported to Iran through Dubai and Iran’s petrochemical products reach Pakistan via Dubai. We have a low share of Pakistan’s markets while capacities for trade are high. Our relations with Pakistan are also limited in other areas. For example, we are sending students to Ukraine, but know nothing about scientific rating of Pakistani universities and many Iranians do not know that there are very good universities there. Our banking system is not connected to that of Pakistan and media relations are also scanty. At present, Pakistan has no correspondents in Iran and Iran’s news is received through third-party media after translation. On the whole, relations between the two neighbors are less than satisfactory in social terms.

Q: Have the two countries’ governments ever tried to give more depth to bilateral relations?

A: Good measures have been taken. We have encouraged reciprocal visits by businesspeople and journalists and a direct flight has been launched to Pakistan. Many cultural groups in the two countries are interacting. In fact, both countries have always underlined the need for expansion of relations, but a third factor has always been there to prevent further development of ties.

Q: Why that secondary factor has remained unknown so far?

A: Well, Iran and Pakistan account for one-fifth of the Muslim population of the world. They have also many capacities to interact. To pinpoint that secondary factor we should see what countries do not like to see friendly relations between Iran and Pakistan. Both Iran and Pakistan have regional rivals. From this standpoint, we would be able to recognize that some regional states do not want to see us close. At the same time, Saudi Arabia and transregional powers such as the United States are not willing to see one-fifth of the world Muslims united.

Q: I mean, why those secondary factors which overshadow bilateral relations have not been identified to be eliminated by the two countries?

A: I must say that the most important problem is Pakistan itself because it cannot overcome problems and we are now neighboring a weak Pakistan which cannot triumph over factors which aim to undermine its policies. Meanwhile, let’s not forget that Pakistan is also neighboring Afghanistan which is a crisis zone and is naturally affected by its misfortunes. Many Pashtu tribes in Pakistan are directly connected with their counterparts in Afghanistan. In fact, not only Iran, but also Pakistani people are not immune to such factors. Therefore, the Pakistani government, for certain reasons, cannot control them and this will leave its mark on bilateral relations.

Q: Iran’s relations with Pakistan have gone through many ups and downs in the past few years. To what extent have Pakistani parties been influential on those developments?

A: All parties in Pakistan have underlined the need to have relations with Iran. However, conditions under each party have been different. Under Benazir Bhutto, for example, relations were quite friendly. However, when I was consul general in Lahore, Parviz Musharraf was prime minister and Pakistan was under suspicion after 9/11 terror attacks. Therefore, it had to give special services to the United States to eradicate Taliban and had also to stay away from Iran. At that time, secondary factors were working to keep Iran and Pakistan apart.

Q: So, secondary factors have not been limited to unofficial levels or terrorist actions, but have been quite official too?

A: Yes. Iran and Pakistan have been never distant on the basis of their own policies and a third current has been working to cause challenges in bilateral relations. Musharraf, although fully subservient to the United States, did his best to strengthen relations with Iran. Even the contract for construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to Pakistan was signed under Musharraf while the United States was willing for the pipeline to extend from Qatar all the way to Turkmenistan.

Source: Shargh Newspaper

Translated By: Iran Review

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