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Iran-Pakistan ties: impact on CPEC

The Afghan Taliban’s sectarianism was one of the reasons why relations between the two countries failed to remain cordial

Asia Maqsood

DECEMBER 1, 2017

Since the inception of Pakistan, relations between Iran and Pakistan were on even keels throughout the early decades. The two countries were cooperative from 1947-1979, while the Shah of Iran still reign. Pakistan’s Balochistan province is pivotal in relations between the two countries because the Baloch population is present in both countries. Even in the 1971 war, Pakistan was provided assistance through the provision of military hardware, intelligence and logistics by Iran along with Syria and Jordan. Furthermore, Pakistan also played an influential role in ending the Iran-Iraq war. Unfortunately, relations between the two countries declined during the 1990’s.

The Afghan Taliban’s sectarianism was one of the reasons relations between the two countries failed to remain cordial. The fact that the Taliban (which was backed by Pakistan) was targeting Shias in Afghanistan put Pakistan in the spotlight. The situation deteriorated further when the Taliban killed Iranian diplomats in northern Afghanistan in 1998. Following this, many prominent Shia figures were targeted in terrorist attacks. The Iranian consulate was targeted twice in Peshawar. A senior Iranian diplomat was abducted from the same city in 2009. It was obvious to Iran that the group behind these attack was being funded by the Saudis and supported by Pakistan. Pakistan was accused of not providing sufficient security to Iranian diplomats.

As a result of this, Indo-Iran ties emerged on one side, whereas Pakistan-Saudi ties emerged on the other. India’s desire to engage with Iran is fairly obvious; it would lead to the isolation of Pakistan and decrease Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan, while increasing India’s. It is pertinent to discuss Pakistan’s two main concerns here. These are growing Indo-Iran ties in Afghanistan and the development of the Chabahar port.

However, the dramatic turn in Iran-Pakistan relations came in 2016 when Indian agent Kulbushan Jadhav was arrested in Balochistan and it was claimed by Pakistan that he attempted to cross into Balochistan through Iran. Following the arrest of this Indian agent , Iran’s President visited Pakistan and Lt. Gen Asim Bajwa shared the text of the former Army Chief of Pakistan General Raheel Shareef, “There is one concern that RAW (India’s intelligence agency) is involved in Pakistan, especially in Balochistan and sometimes it also uses the soil of our brother country Iran.”Furthermore, the killing of Mullah Mansour in 2016 near the Iran border which the Pakistani military was suspicious about considering that Mansour has just crossed the border from Iran and was hit by a drone attack. Another sticking factor is that the Balochistan border is infested with drug smugglers, Baloch insurgents and pseudo-Taliban militants. These factors have instigated more mistrust between the two countries.

Talking about recent times, the last two years have witnessed more cross-border fire between Pakistani military and Iranian forces than the entire 68 years of bilateral relations.

India’s desire to engage with Iran is fairly obvious; it would lead to Pakistan’s isolation
and decrease Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan, while increasing India’s

On Nov 6, 2017 Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited Iran. Focusing on the regional realities of South Asia, there are two paramount concerns to be discussed in this visit. First is Pakistan’s concern against the India and Iran’s role in Afghanistan and second is Iran’s apprehension on the terrorist attacks on its security forces allegedly from Pakistani soil. Both countries shave different viewpoints on the Middle East but they have not allowed this to undermine the bilateral agenda of the visit. In one of his earlier meetings with Ambassador Honardoost, Gen Bajwa had told him that “enhanced Pak-Iran military-to-military cooperation will have positive impact on regional peace and stability” with regards to Pakistan’s defence diplomacy. The entirety of this visit secures the trust between the two countries and at least Pakistan is safer from any effort or threat by Iran to sabotage the huge development of CPEC and Gwadar Port.

A well-Known historian and Oxford University academic Peter Frankopan said, “At the moment, there is a talk of Chabahar and Gwadar complementing each other, and being peers rather than rivals. This scenario is entirely plausible and possible. Whether it is likely or not is another question.”

In nutshell, it is pertinent to focus on the two developments of two belligerent countries of South Asia (India, Pakistan) have two equations; one is China-Pakistan with the development of Gwadar Port and China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Second is the India-Iran with the development of Chabahar Port and India’s growing influence of Afghanistan. It could be inferred here that Iran is not the sole neighbour who is assisting India to access Afghanistan but US is relatively playing more active role in uplifting India in this region. Hence on Pakistan’s side, the Chinese investment is facing more challenges than India’s investment in Chabahar Port. CPEC is an inclusive project and welcomes all states to be part of the project by investing and open up more opportunities of prosperity for the whole region. Pakistan’s Army Chief’s visit substantially has proven a catalyst for amending the mistrust between the two countries which eventually further supported each other’s development plans. It could also be infer optimistically that Gwadar could have benefits for Iran and CPEC can provide more trade opportunities for Iran. Moreover, China’s investment in Pakistan could be the pioneer to broader Chinese regional infrastructure investments, including in Iran. Chinese may make contributions to Chabahar.

The writer is Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute Islamabad


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