…by Sajjad Shaukat for Veterans Today
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Iran on April 21, this year. During his two-day trip, he met Iran’s Supreme Leader Seyyed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
In their meeting, Prime Minister Khan and President Rouhani discussed the entire spectrum of bilateral relations, and the means to further bolster and expand their relations in diverse fields, as the joint press conference between the two leaders showed on April 22.
Pakistan and Iran have agreed to set up a Joint Rapid Reaction Force to guard the common borders to stop the infiltration of terrorists.
In his address, Prime Minister Khan outlined Pakistan’s stance on terrorism by stating that the country will not allow any militant group to operate from its soil.
He further stated that “Pakistan has suffered devastating effects of terrorism more than any other country”, and praised Pakistan Armed Forces for “countering and succeeding in the war against terror”. He elaborated: “I felt that the issue of terrorism is going to increase differences between Pakistan and Iran…it is very crucial for both countries to resolve this issue.”
He proclaimed: “70,000 people have lost their lives in occupied-Kashmir, and [Kashmiris]…are being brutally massacred on daily-basis.”
Both the leaders agreed that Pakistan and Iran were affected by the war in Afghanistan and the peace in Afghanistan “is in the interest of the two countries. Pakistan’s Premier Khan also condemned Israeli atrocities in Palestine and termed them “a gross violation of the International Law.”
Prime Minister Khan referred to the brutal incident of April 18, 2019 near Ormara, Pakistani side of the Balochistan, in which 14 personnel belonging to the armed forces were shot dead and Pakistan lodged a strong protest with Iran over its inaction against the terror groups believed to be involved in the Ormara killings” and stated that his visit would restore ‘trust’ between both countries.
In this regard, in a letter written to the Iranian embassy, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “BRAS”—an alliance of three terrorist organisations—claimed responsibility for the terrorist act. The government said that the terrorists had arrived from the border region of Iran and returned to the area.
In February, this year, 207 Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) were killed in a suicide car bombing in the Iran’s province of Sistan- Baluchestan, located near the border with Pakistan. The Sunni Muslim extremist group Jaish al-Adl claimed responsibility for the attack. Tehran called on Islamabad to take action against the militant group.
However, in the joint statement, President Rouhani further said: “No third country will be allowed to influence friendly ties between Iran and Pakistan…unfortunately some tensions were witnessed in the border areas in the recent past where terrorists perpetrated their nefarious acts”. He added that both sides have “reaffirmed their commitment to achieve peace and security in the entire region”.
Rouhani asserted that both neighbours have also agreed to bolster their trade and economic ties. He further stated: “We are also interested in establishing links between Gwadar and Chahbhar ports in order to strengthen our commerce relations.”
President Hassan maintained that his country was ready to meet the oil and gas requirements of Pakistan. He explained: “We have already taken effective measures to construct the gas pipeline with the Pakistani border. Iran is also ready to increase power supply to Pakistan [for meeting electricity shortage].”
Prime Minister Imran also held a meeting with the representatives of Iran’s business community, where he stressed on the need for increased bilateral trade.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari said on April 23, 2019 that on the request of Imran Khan, very soon, Iran may release 32 prisoners held in Iranian jails for petty crimes.
Nevertheless, in geo-political terms, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s trip to Iran has strategic importance not only for both the countries, but also for the entire region. Economic activity is going to accelerate in the region owing to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is part of China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative or BRI. US and India has already opposed this project.
Tehran being the neighbouring country cannot be ruled out of this project. Iran has almost 1000 km border with Pakistan’s province of Balochistan and Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchestan. Gwadar seaport is central point of the CPEC projects. So, Tehran cannot ignore its importance. Gwadar port located in Pakistani side of Balochistan is going to be emerged as the biggest port in region. The other major project for Pakistan is Iran-Pakistan pipeline (IP); this project will be useful for CPEC as well.
Pak-Iranian relations are rapidly strengthening day by day. During the visit of Iran’s Vice President for International Affairs Ali Seedlou to Pakistan, the two countries signed three agreements on November 13, 2012 as part of Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) to promote economic cooperation, timely completion of Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project and electricity import from Iran. Both the sides agreed to increase bilateral trade to $5 billion mark.
Iran which already completed its portion of gas pipeline had decided to invest $500 million assistance in building Pakistani part of the project.
In this respect, the then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had also visited Pakistan. In the third trilateral summit at Islamabad, on February 17, 2012, the then Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari, former Iranian President Ahmadinejad and the then Afghan President Hamid Karzai put their heads together to forge regional cooperation in multifaceted areas. They pledged to eradicate terrorism and militancy from the region.
Zardari vowed to fight US pressure on the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline (IP), saying that the “external forces can not undermine bilateral relations.” Islamabad also assured to support Tehran, if the US or Israel launches a military attack on Iran. While hinting towards Washington, the Iranian president revealed that the problem in the region had no local roots, but it was imposed from external fronts.
Afterwards, the government led by the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did not implement Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline owing to America’s pressure.
However, since the beginning of diplomatic relations, there have been many ups and downs in Pak-Iranian relations, while, Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan after it gained independence in 1947.
In March, 2018, the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif visited Pakistan and helped to re-establish diplomatic and security cooperation between the two countries over border management, as American CIA, Indian RAW and Israeli Mossad arranged terror attacks in Pakistan’s Balochistan and Sistan-Baluchestan to manipulate ties between Islamabad and Tehran. Due to misunderstanding created by these agencies, Islamabad and Tehran has long been accusing the infiltration of militants from each other’s side of border.
It is notable that Pak-Iranian relations had already become tense after Pakistan’s security forces arrested Indian spy Kulbhushan Yadhav on March 3, 2016. Indian role in Pakistan became naked after the arrest of Kulbhushan Yadav. In a video statement, Kulbhushan openly admitted that he was the serving agent of Indian RAW in Balochistan province, and during his stay, he contacted various Baloch separatist leaders and insurgents, including Dr Allah Nazar Baloch to execute the task to damage CPEC.
Yadav confessed that he spied for India and was “assigned with the task to create unrest in Karachi and Balolchitan…to destabilize Pakistan…he was captured, while heading Iran.” He also disclosed that he was funding Baloch separatists along with other terrorists.
During the visit of the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Pakistan on March 31, 2016, Pakistan’s the former Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif had raised the issue of Kulbushan Yadav with him—use of Iranian soil by India’s RAW to stoke instability in Balochistan and Karachi. In this respect, some misunderstanding was created by some media reports which misinterpreted the news by indicating that perhaps, Gen. Raheel has blamed Tehran for RAW activities in Pakistan.
Regarding the arrest of Jadhav, hinting towards the US, India and some foreign powers, including some internal entities of Pakistan, in a statement, the spokesman of the Iranian Embassy in Islamabad, Abbas Badrifar slammed “certain elements…unhappy over promotion of ties between the two Islamic countries…are trying in various ways, including the spreading of undignified and sometimes offensive contents, to fade out the significant achievements during the visit of Iranian President Rouhani to Pakistan.”
While denouncing media reports, the then Minister for Interior Affairs Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan clarified on April 2, 2016 that “Iran is not involved in any anti-state activities in Pakistan…all sections of Pakistani society are unanimous in their support for stronger Pak-Iran relations.” In response, Iranian ambassador called on Interior Minister Nisar to assure his country’s full support in stemming incursion of Indian spies into Pakistani territory, using Iranian soil.
But, some foreign elements misguide Iran through false propaganda by exploiting various terror-incidents which took place inside Iran, especially Sistan-Baluchestan and Pakistan’s province of Balochistan.
It could be judged from the incident of October 25, 2013, when 14 Iranian border guards lost their lives and six other in a shoot-out with terrorists in the border region of Saravan in Sistan-Baluchestan. In that regard, Iranian lawmakers accused America for the deadly attack.
It is mentionable that the US-led Indo-Israeli overt and covert links are part of a dangerous strategic game being played in South Asia and other Islamic countries. In the aftermath of 9/11, as to how this strategic game is being played can be judged from some developments. For example, on October 18, 2009, a deadliest suicide attack killed dozens of officers, including the deputy commander for the Revolutionary Guards, Brigadier General Nour Ali Shoushtari and the provincial commander, Brigadier Rajab Ali Mohammadzadeh in the Sistan-Baluchestan. Jundullah (God’s soldiers), a Sunni militant group, which is pro-active against the Iranians, had claimed responsibility for the incident.
The Revolutionary Guard released a statement after the attack, revealing that there was “no doubt that this violent and inhumane act was part of the strategy of foreigners and enemies of the regime.” Afterwards, Iran directly accused America and Britain for their patronage and funding of such type of terrorist attacks for creating instability within Iran.
It of particular attention that in the recent years, CIA, RAW and Mossad which are covertly assisting the Baloch nationalist leaders and separatist element in Pakistan’s Balochistan have arranged a perennial wave of subversive acts in the province.
As regards Jundullah, in past few years, the group has conducted multiple terrorist activities like kidnapping and killing of a number of Iranian nationals, including suicide attacks in Pakistan’s province of Balochistan and Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchestan. On many occasions, Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Jundullah claimed responsibility for the terrorist acts.
Online reliable sources suggest that these Baoch separatist entities and Jundullah have links with each other. And their militants are getting arms and ammunition from Afghanistan where US-led India and Israel have established their secret network not only to create lawlessness in Pakistan and Iran, but also to sabotage good relationship of these countries. Notably, Afghanistan shares a common border with Pakistan and Iran, so it has become easy for these external elements to achieve their sinister anti-Pak-Iranian aims.
It is also of particular attention that during his trip to Iran, Pakistan’s army chief Gen. Qamar Bajwa who met with Iranian civil and military leaders said on November 7, 2017 that Pakistan was determined to expand its ties with Iran in all spheres, including expansion of its military and defence cooperation with Tehran.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Minister of Road and Urban Development Abbas Akhundi, leading a high-ranking delegation, arrived in Pakistan on April 12, 2018 on a three-day official visit for talks with the country’s officials. He also visited Karachi Port Trust (KPT). Akhoundi also showed interest in transshipment cargo handling, and stated that Iran is keen to work with Pakistan for interconnection linkage between Karachi Port and Bandar Abbas as well as the development of tourism and facilitation of ‘zaireen’ (religious pilgrims). He also expressed keen interest in exploring avenues available under the CPEC.
Now, the President Donald Trump has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal and imposed sanctions on Iran. He also threatened to impose sanctions on any country who will continue trade with Tehran. Islamabad rejected American pressure-diplomacy and continued trade with Tehran. Taking note of American war-mongering diplomacy, Tehran could abandon the US-sponsored India-Afghanistan Chabahar project and could join the CPEC project.
Besides, the role of Pakistan Army in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia came to limelight, when Pakistan decided to send more troops in that country. Many Indian newspapers and media anchors started spreading disinformation that Pakistan Army would be used by Riyadh in case of war against Yemen and Iran.
In this connection, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa visited Saudi Arabia where he met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on February 1, 2018 and Saudi vice president of the Council of Ministers on February 2. Gen. Qamar Bajwa discussed matters of mutual interest and military ties between Islamabad and Riyadh.
But, without knowing the real role of Pakistan Army in Saudi Arabia, the opposition in the National Assembly (lower house) raised concerns over reports of sending Pakistan Army troops to Saudi Arabia.
In this context, on February 19, 2018, the then Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir clarified by saying: “1600 Pakistani troops are currently deployed in Saudi Arabia and 10,000 Saudi troops are currently receiving training in Pakistan…more than 1,000 troops will be deployed in Saudi Arabia over a few months’ time, bringing the tally of Pakistani troops deployed to 2,600…The apprehension that our troops will become entangled in the Yemen war is incorrect…the current and future deployments will be within the remits of the agreement…Pakistani forces have acquired new skills at a huge price due to the ongoing war against terror and will help in training the Saudi troops.”
Earlier, a press release from Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) also said on February 15, 2018, “A Pakistan army contingent will be stationed in Saudi Arabia on a training and advisory mission…The announcement followed a meeting between Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador, Nawaf Saeed Al-Maliki, and Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa earlier today at General Headquarters Rawalpindi. The contingent will join Pakistani troops that are already stationed in Saudi Arabia and will not be deployed outside the Kingdom…Pakistan already has around 1180 troops in Saudi Arabia under a 1982 bilateral agreement.”
It is noteworthy that Pakistan is one of the 41 members of the Saudi-led Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) which is being headed by Pakistan’s former army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif.
Taking note of the rumours that Saudi-led military alliance of Sunni countries was formed against the Shia states-Iran and Yemen, ex-Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif has made it clear in 2017 that he supports unity of the Islamic Ummah.
In fact, Pakistan is playing a balancing role in the Muslim World in general and the Middle East in particular.
When a rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran widened in the aftermath of the execution of the prominent Shia religious leader Nimr al-Nimr as part of Riyadh’s executions of 47 persons on terrorism charges, on January 2, 2016, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries like Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait, including Sudan broke off diplomatic relations with Iran. But, Islamabad continued her ties with Tehran.
It is worth-mentioning that on January 5, 2016, the then Adviser to Pakistan’s former Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz stated that Pakistan will continue to play its positive and mediatory role to ease tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. For the purpose, Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the former Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Raheel Sharif had visited Saudi Arabia and Iran to defuse tensions between the two countries. They called for resolution of the crisis through peaceful means in the larger interest of the Muslim world.
In his meeting with the Iranian Defence Minister Hosse Dehghan in Islamabad, Gen. Raheel Sharif had reiterated that “Pakistan takes Iran as a very important neighbouring Muslim country and the people of Pakistan have a great affinity with their Iranian brothers.”
While, Pakistan’s civil and military officials also clarified that Pakistan Armed Forces are also stationed in Saudi Arabia for protection of the holy sites in Mecca and Medina, as their role would be defensive, not offensive.
Notably, despite the pressure of America, Pakistan had refused to send its troops in Syria in support of the US-backed forces which wanted to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Similarly, in 2015, Riyadh insisted upon Islamabad to send its forces to join the US backed NATO-like Saudi-led coalition to conduct aerial strikes on Yemen. But, Pakistan refused to join this alliance which was anti-Iran and also refused to participate in the Saudi-led airstrikes on Yemen.
Prime Minister Imran Khan already announced that Pakistan is trying “to play the role of a mediator in the Yemen war involving Saudi Arabia…Pakistan will play its role in ending conflicts in the region and to bring all Muslim countries together.”
Likewise, Khan has also stated that Islamabad will mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran as part of creating unity of the Islamic Ummah.
It is mentionable that when in 2017, Saudi Arabia along with several Gulf States severed diplomatic ties with Qatar after accusing it of supporting terrorist groups; Pakistan did not cut off its relations with Qatar.
Nonetheless, the announcement of Prime Minister Imaran Khan’s visit to Iran came just two months after the visit of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is one of the leading figures in Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia, to Pakistan. During the trip, seven bilateral agreements, mostly energy-related, worth $20 billion were signed in the presence of the crown prince and Imran Khan. Besides, Ryadth has also showed interest to join the CPEC.
Senior officials of Pakistan’s foreign ministry has stated on February 13, this year that Pakistan’s closeness to Saudi Arabia was not against Tehran—Islamabad had contacted Tehran ahead of Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Islamabad and assured Iranian rulers about their policy of non-interference. They said: “We have told them clearly that Pakistan cannot be used against Iran nor Saudi Arabia…The ties with Saudi Arabia are bilateral and as our good relations with Iran.”
On the same day, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi stated: “Pakistan was active to ease Iran-Saudi Arabia tensions. He also suggested that Islamabad could help mediate the spat between Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
It is worth-mentioning that the US had planned to spark a civil war between the Sunnis and Shias in wake of war on terror. For the purpose, a study of Rand Corporation, titled ‘US Strategy in the Muslim World After 9/11’ was conducted on behalf of the then US Deputy Chief of Staff for Air Force. Its report which was released on December 27, 2004 advocated that Sunni-Shia sectarian division should be exploited to promote the US objectives in the Muslim World. The report was first implemented in Iraq.
In 2004, major terror-attacks were carried out against the Shias. Afterwards, a chain of Shia-Sunni clashes started between Iraqi Shias and Sunnis, targeting each other’s mosques and religious leaders through bomb blasts, suicide attacks etc.
After Iraq’s experiment, more deadly pattern of sectarian strife and clashes have been conducted in Pakistan. With the assistance of CIA and Mossad, RAW has arranged a number of attacks on mosques and religious leaders of Shias and Sunnis through the militant groups such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Jundullah and Islamic State group (Also known as Daesh, ISIS and ISIL). These outfits kidnapped and killed many Iranian nationals in Pakistan, including Iranian diplomats. ISIS and Jundollah conducted many subversive acts in Pakistan’s province of Balochistan and Sistan-Baluchestan. In this connection, Tehran has directly accused CIA of funding these types of terror attacks.
Hinting towards the US and Israel, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei had disclosed, “The bloody actions being committed in Iraq, Pakistan and Iran are aimed at creating a division between the Shias and Sunnis…those who carry out these terrorist actions are directly or indirectly foreign agents.”
Undoubtedly, we can conclude that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s strategic trip to Iran will not only strengthen relations between Tehran and Islamabad, but will also bring about positive changes in the region.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations
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