Rouhani’s visit to strengthen bilateral ties: IPR

Islamabad: Iranian president’s visit should be seen as a harbinger of a sea change in the two countries’ bilateral relations, said a press release issued by the Institute for Policy Reforms (IPR).

“The two countries can significantly contribute to peace, stability, and prosperity in our region,” the brief said while banking on a booklet written by former ambassador Ashraf Jehangir Qazi.

Qazi asserts that Pakistan must priorities its own national interests above those of foreign patrons. Several factors have prevented the relationship from growing into a strong strategic and economic partnership.

For Pakistan, these are fear of sectarian tensions, Arab influence, and until recently, economic sanctions. Iran’s concerns included our pre-9/11 support for the Taliban. During the era of the Shah, Iran saw itself as prosperous and heir to a great civilisation.

It could not alienate a culturally comparable India for the sake of Pakistan. Yet there are many positives. In 1947, Iran was the first country to recognise Pakistan.

Soon after, international economic and strategic treaties bound the two countries. Iran provided military assistance to Pakistan in its 1965 conflict with India. In 1971, it helped broker a rapprochement between Pakistan and the Soviet Union to avert a war with India.

The context of the visit of the Iran president is important. By removing former Iraqi president Saddam Hussain and Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, the US unwittingly did Iran a major service.

But the historical ties between the clergies of Iran and Iraq prevented Iraq from becoming a US client regime. However, US plans for regime change in Tehran remained.

The US shifted its emphasis to Iran’s alleged nuclear programme. The Iran-backed proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East could have easily addressed the issue. But the US was only interested in regime change in Tehran and preserving Israel’s nuclear arsenal.

Iran, accordingly, was subjected to economically crushing sanctions. At present, the regional civil war situation has worsened with the rise of ISIS and Saudi attempts to raise a military coalition against Iran under the beguiling cover of a war against terror.

The report adds, “Pakistan has skillfully resisted being drawn into such regional military entanglements.

With gradual lifting of sanctions, the situation in Iran has eased. President Rouhani’s visit is taking place with the region still hostage to the uncertain Syrian and Afghan situations. The leadership of Iran and Pakistan must coordinate to navigate this treacherous political landscape of their shared region.

Accordingly, the more positive prospect of enhancing regional connectivity through initiatives such as CPEC and other trans-regional energy projects should provide the geo-economic context for Pakistan’s future relations with all its neighbours, including Iran.

Despite political differences, it is much easier to shift to a win-win strategy within a geo-economic context than it is in an exclusively geo-political or geo-strategic context.

This shift is an absolute imperative for strategic success in the far more complex and integrated world of the 21st Century. Moreover, strategically upgrading our relations with Iran does not imply any downgrading of our relations with our Arab brethren provided we credibly assert the independence of our national policies.

There are plans for a five-year road map to take bilateral trade with Iran from its current pathetic $250 million to $5 billion per annum.