Will Iran and Pakistan Experience Better Days?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Transregional Will Overshadows Relations between Tehran and Islamabad

Masha’allah Shakeri
Former Iranian Ambassador to Pakistan

The relations between Iran and Pakistan saw serious developments during the last Iranian calendar year (ended March 20, 2013). Of course, those developments were neither unexpected, nor surprising. The Islamic Republic of Iran uses a clear framework when describing its general relations with friendly and neighboring states. The achievements and developments related to relations between Iran and Pakistan can be best understood within that general framework. Pakistan, as a neighborly country for Iran, is also the second most populous country in the Muslim world, an effective member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, temporary member of the United Nations Security Council, and a founding member of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO). It has close to 1,000 km of common border with Iran and enjoys special status in Iran's foreign policy as well as foreign relations in view of longstanding cultural and civilizational commonalties between the two countries. The two countries had good achievements last year. As for political arena, cooperation between Iran and Pakistan has continued. There have been mutual visits exchanged by the officials of both countries. In the field of mutual security, Iran managed to sign a security agreement with Pakistan. The agreement was quite essential. In the area of fighting drug trafficking, Iran has succeeded in cooperation with Afghanistan and Pakistan to break remarkable grounds and they have also signed an agreement in this regard. Cultural exchanges between the two countries have been also quite satisfactory. From an economic viewpoint, activities on both sides have been remarkable. However, the crown jewel of those activities has been the latest agreement between Tehran and Islamabad for the construction of the final part of Iran – Pakistan gas pipeline which is also known as the Peace Pipeline. The project will be ensued with greatly positive economic, security, and political achievements for both countries. Therefore, the Iranian year 1391 (March 2012 – March 2013) has been considered a prosperous period for the bilateral relations between Iran and Pakistan.

Both the longstanding relations between Iran and Pakistan, and the long history of those relations are very rich. Relations between the two countries apparently date back to the independence of Pakistan, though cultural and political interactions between Iran and the Indian Subcontinent have a very long record. There are very prominent commonalities in the historical backgrounds of Iran and Pakistan. Therefore, it is no surprise that the relations between Iran and Pakistan still continue within various forms and formats. As a result, the existence of brotherly and friendly relations constitutes the normal state of affairs between the two countries. However, any time that the situation changes for negative, due to any reason, it should be a cause of surprise and one would be able to trace the impact of transregional decisions on it. At present, the relations between Iran and Pakistan have returned to their ordinary state. Of course, international conditions have created special circumstances for Iran, just in the same way that Pakistan has been also under certain requirements due to the same conditions. The Pakistanis, however, are fed-up with looking beyond the region for all their needs and expectations. They have reached the conclusion that they will not gain much through this approach, but they will be only suffering more and losing more. Under these conditions, Pakistanis now believe that they can get more through their western neighbor and will be better off by having good relations with Iran. For this reason, they have appeared more resolute in their decisions regarding Iran and have regulated their behavior in such a way that it would match Iran's expectations and demands. As a result of that policy, we have been also able to depict a win-win situation for our country in relation to Pakistan. For example, when it comes to energy, Pakistan has been suffering from an energy crisis for many years and none of other countries which have promised to provide Pakistan with needed energy have been able to live up to their word and fulfill those promises. Pakistan is still facing major problems for meeting its energy needs. At the moment, the duration of power outage in some parts of Pakistan amounts to 10-12 hours a day and the figure sometimes amounts up to 18 hours a day. The main reason is underdevelopment of the country’s energy infrastructure. Under these conditions, receiving a daily total of 21 million cubic meters of gas can provide Pakistan’s power plants with ample feedstock and enable them to generate more electricity. Construction of a gas pipeline is a commitment which no other country has been able to make with regard to Pakistan. Iran, on the other hand, has been ready for many years to do this, but the Pakistani side failed to take an appropriate step for the progress of the project. Fortunately, as the politicians belonging to the Pakistan Peoples Party were close to the end of their term in office, the Pakistani statesmen made a wise decision though which the situation of the pipeline has been stabilized and its implementation on the Pakistani soil has already gotten underway.

Obstacles to the expansion of bilateral relations

The only problem which actually interferes with relations between the two neighbors is illegitimate transregional decisions which try to disrupt cordial ties between Tehran and Islamabad. Such illegitimate resolve to disrupt relations among countries can be found elsewhere in the world as well. At present, it seems that such foreign intervention is the mother of all problems which are now plaguing relations between the two countries. The manifestations of such transregional interventions are clear. They include escalation of sectarian conflicts in Pakistan, worsening rifts between Shias and Sunnis in Pakistan, border issues, as well as militancy along Pakistan’s border with Iran which has at times inflicted damages on our country. There are also certain differences between Iran and Pakistan over some regional issues which should be resolved, but the same illegitimate transregional interventions do not allow Iran and Pakistan to better interact with each other.

Outlook of Iran – Pakistan relations in new Iranian year

The future outlook of Iran's relations with Pakistan should be outlined in the light of the fact that Pakistan will be holding a general election this year. On March 16, 2013, Pakistan’s former prime minister announced that the five-year term of the Pakistan Peoples Party is over and the federal parliament in Islamabad has been also dissolved. This is why Pakistan has been having a caretaker government since March 17. During this period of transition, the caretaker prime minister is chosen to head a caretaker Cabinet. This period is just for transition between the past established government and the new government. In fact, this is the first time in the history of Pakistani politics that the statesmen have gone through a five-year term. Therefore, the Pakistan Peoples Party has a very good record in terms of promoting and maintaining democracy in the country. However, it is not clear how the forthcoming election will fare, which party will emerge as the winner, or what coalition will be formed. The upcoming general election in Pakistan will be held on May 9, 2013, and one should wait and see how it will affect the structure of the federal government as well as the local state authorities. On the whole, however, if the existing course of political developments in Pakistan is maintained, it does not seem possible that the future Pakistani politicians would have any doubt about the continuation of relations with the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Another reason is that good relations with Iran will have many benefits for the Pakistani side. However, there is a missing link in relations between Iran and Pakistan which should be found and put in place. The gas pipeline project was somehow a kind of strong connection which was created between the two countries. There are also other connections through railroad, road and trade cooperation between the two countries which have not reached the optimal level yet. The maritime and shipping cooperation between Iran and Pakistan still need to be further developed. Such connections can be established in other ways and help relations between the two countries to reach a level which they actually deserve to be.

Domestic developments in Pakistan

The political stability and domestic security in Pakistan are two flip sides of the same coin. There can be also a causal relationship between them. Both the establishment and maintenance of democracy and political stability in a country require establishment of domestic security as a requisite. On the other hand, political stability can also help establishment of security in the country. However, the current situation that we see in the Pakistani society is one of unstable security. This means that not only certain areas in north of Pakistan like Federally Administered Tribal Areas or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have relatively gotten out of the government’s control and are witnessing rising insecurity, the insecurity is also spiraling up in such important cities of Lahore and Karachi and has even spread as far as the capital, Islamabad, and the neighboring Rawalpindi. The unstable security state of Pakistan can also prove to be a stumbling block on the way of establishment of political stability in the country as well, which in turn, will prevent further development of the country’s economy. As a result, the widespread insecurity will have many dimensions. Whether the Pakistani statesmen will have enough resolve, efficiency, decision-making power and determination to control this insecurity is a question which should be answered in the light of future political developments in the country. However, a more serious question currently exists: will the existing situation prompt the Pakistani army to once more take a decision for interfering in the country’s political scene? It seems that the army still lacks enough motivation and resolve to enter the scene and control the situation. All hopes, therefore, should be pinned on the capacity and capability of the future government to keep security under firm control. Let’s hope that the future government in Pakistan will be powerful enough to control this situation.

Key Words: Iran, Pakistan, Obstacles, Bilateral Relations, Domestic Developments, Gas Pipeline, Shakeri

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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