Alwaght– The 2016 was a year full of highs and lows in Iran-Pakistan relations. The two countries’ leaders exchanged a number of visits to neighbor capitals, showing a strong will for expansion of the mutual ties. Early in March this year, when Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) held its summit in Islamabad, the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Pakistan for the summit, holding constructive talks with the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as well as other leaders of ECO, a ten-member economic bloc that includes Pakistan and Iran.
However, despite an appropriate atmosphere for collaboration and boost of the two nations’ mutual relations, a set of tensions erupted in the region, gradually fueling a kind of competition in the South and West Asia regions that led to differences in viewpoints of Tehran and Islamabad.
A consideration of these ups and downs can help us bring in spotlight the threats and opportunities that influence the two nations’ ties.
The main issue that offers a great chance of joint work between Pakistan and Iran is fighting against radical and terrorist groups in their vicinities. If the threat of ISIS terrorist group is well recognized by the two sides, the need for cooperation between Tehran and Islamabad becomes even more crucial. The terrorist group has begun to sustain resounding defeats in the region and very likely it soon has to relocate its forces from Iraq and Syria. Now that ISIS began to lose ground in its bastions in Syria and Iraq, it will possibly in next steps head to implementation of its “Greater Khorasan” plan. This means that risks of ISIS getting toehold around Iran and Pakistan will grow bigger. The ISIS-eyed “Greater Khorasan” covers areas in Central Asia, Muslim-inhabited Caucasus of Russia, Xinjiang province of China, Pakistan, parts of Iran, Afghanistan, and the Muslim-inhabited areas of East Asia. The terrorist group’s aim makes the security of Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan interwoven, and raises a necessity for collaboration to thwart the extremism in the region.
Another ground for Tehran-Islamabad partnership is fight against drug smuggling. Only Helmand province of Afghanistan accounts for 90 percent of world’s opium production and supply. The main routes for smuggling the Afghan drugs to Europe majorly pass through Iran and Pakistan. Long common borders of Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan raise the drugs trade as a security challenge to the three countries. Cooperation can help Pakistan and Iran block more effectively the routes of illegal trade that is promoted by the mafia groups.
Another ground where the two neighbors can cooperate on is the border security. Pakistan does not secure the common borders as effectively as Iran expects. This is because Islamabad puts premium on watching its common borders with Afghanistan in Durand Line and with India in the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between the two countries. This priority distracts Pakistan from tightening security measures on shared borders with Iran. But this negligence makes troubles for the Iranian side who expects Pakistan to do its share for border security. Iran’s concerns originate from the fact that anti-Tehran radical groups predominantly cross Iran borders from Pakistan and cause insecurity in the country. Destabilization of the Iranian border areas has sent Islamabad and Tehran at odds over the border control.
Still issue on which the two nations can cooperate is the economy and trade as Iran and Pakistan enjoy complementary potentials for commercial exchanges.
A gas pipeline, dubbed Peace Pipeline, was constructed from Iran to the Pakistani borders. A key agreement has been reached over the deal but the finalization process is hit by some financial problems. Reportedly a Chinese finance firm has pledged provision of 80 percent of the pipeline expenses to make the project operational. If the gas supply starts, Pakistan energy needs will help a reinforced energy partnership between the two neighbors.
The opportunities for cooperation, however, are jeopardized by a series of discords. For instance, when it comes to stances on the crises in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Bahrain, Pakistan’s viewpoints are closer to those of Saudi Arabia than to those of Iran. So the Iranian-Saudi disputes may impact the Tehran-Islamabad relations too.
Another sticking point is Afghanistan which has been suffering from domestic war and instability that exacerbated since 2001, when US waged it war on the country. Although a stable Afghanistan is in best interest of Iran and Pakistan, the two sides still disagree on how to find political settlement for ultimate stability in the war-torn country.