By: Muhammad Suleman*
March 20, 2018
Last week, on a three-day official visit, a high profile 30-member Iranian delegation led by the country’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif visited Pakistan. The delegation comprised of businessmen and investors who displayed an interest in matters pertaining to trade, energy and culture, among others. During his visit, he held formal talks with the President, Prime Minster, Foreign Minister, Chief of Army of Staff and other important dignitaries in Pakistan. He also had an extensive media interaction, gave exclusive interviews to some of the country’s leading media groups, addressed a think-tank on Pakistan-Iran relations in Islamabad, as well as the Pakistan-Iran business forum in Karachi. During his visit, he spoke about multiple critical issues such as Iran’s inclusion in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, Iran-India relations, Chahbhar port and Indian role, Afghanistan, Iran-KSA relations, trade relations, and terrorism among others.
On the eve of the conclusion of his visit, Iranian Foreign Minister declared it as a successful one and on his twitter account posted;
“On 70th anniversary of Iran-Pakistan relations, completing a very successful three-day visit to our eastern neighbor, accompanied by a large and serious business delegation. Big turnout in Islamabad and Karachi business forums. Neighbors are, and always have been, Iran’s priority”
Importance of the Visit
Iranian foreign minister’s visit has taken place at a time when the region is in a flux with prevailing uncertainty, misperceptions and a deteriorating security situation. With the ongoing development projects in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, commencement of the Chahbhar port, the involvement of regional actors in the said projects, as well as the geostrategic military alliances, Pakistan-Iran relations had become clouded with doubts and uncertainties.
This visit by the 30 plus member Iranian delegation headed by the country’s foreign minister was the first step in normalizing and moving forward the bilateral relations, while also addressing some of Pakistan’s concerns, particularly regarding Indian activities, and the Iranian soil could be used to destabilize Pakistan. During various media talks and public interactions, the Iranian FM, in an attempt to assuage these concerns, reassured that Iranian soil will not be used against Pakistan.
Outcome of the Visit
The visit by the Iranian foreign minister was aimed at enhancing bilateral ties and cooperation between the two countries especially in the economic domain. Important meetings and interactions with both government and media were held by H.E. Mr Zarif. While some misperceptions do exist, mainly concerning Pakistan’s role in the Saudi-leld military coalition and Indian involvement in the geostrategic port of Chahbhar, a direct rival to Pakistan’s Gwadar port, both two sides were committed to working on resolving these issues.
A subtle remark made by the Iranian FM on Pakistan’s role as a mediator between Iran and Saudi Arabia was also not lost. During a television interview on this topic, he stated that, “unfortunately he [former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif] was not as warmly received in Saudi Arabia on this particular proposal. There was no reception to his suggestion.” This subtle statement hinted towards Iran’s interest in utilizing the strong Pakistan-KSA relations towards its own regional goals.
Another important aspect of the visit was the Iranian support for the Kashmiri cause. There are very few countries in the world which openly back the Kashmiri struggle for independence, and Iran has consistently been one of them. In line with Tehran’s position on the issue, following the Iranian foreign minister’s meeting with his Pakistani counterpart, following statement was issued by the foreign office whereby the Iranian FM “reiterated support for the peaceful struggle of the peoples of Palestine and Kashmir for their right to self-determination”.
Consequently, it would not be incorrect to say that the recent visit of Iranian foreign minister was part of a series of the ongoing efforts by Tehran to improve its economic and security cooperation with Islamabad, as well as remove the existing misperceptions between both countries.
* The views herein are of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of the Centre. Mr Suleman is a Research Associate at CPGS. He holds a Masters degree in Strategic Studies from the National Defence University (NDU), Islamabad, and an MPhil degree in Political Science from International Islamic University, Islamabad.