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A roundtable regarding Pakistan-Iran relations

was organized by Institute of Policy (IPS)

Islamabad on September 19, 2017. It was
chaired by Pakistans former envoy to Iran,
Ambassador (R) Khalid Mehmood and was addressed
priorities and strategies for regional peace (e.g.
Afghanistan, Middle East, etc.) too have not always
been harmonious. This situation has garnered more
distances than the potential closeness between both
the countries.
exclusively by Irans ambassador to Pakistan H.E.
The region in which Pakistan and Iran are
Mehdi Honardoost.
situated, has been a battleground of regional and
Held according to Chatham House Rules, the global players for past few decades. The
roundtable was participated by a select group of dynamics related to such presence have further
scholars, analysts and experts. This brief is compiled contributed to rocky bilateral relations of both
by a team of IPS and draws mainly from the the countries. It could be inferred that where
deliberations of the said roundtable. these uneasy relations are a result of this conflict-
ridden region, they also play a role in worsening
The extent to which the historical, geographical,
the already existing frictions in the region.
cultural and most importantly the civilizational
linkages exist between Pakistan and Iran, is not Hence it would not be incorrect to say that the
always observed even among the different segments stable relations between Pakistan and Iran would
of the same state. The two states, despite their not only affect the two countries positively but
distinct sovereignty, form a nation that has more will also have an impact on the complex and
similarities than differences. Even as states, most volatile situation of the region.
interests are intertwined and both the states are also
The importance of improved relations between
linked with each other being important countries of
the two countries has increased considerably in
the Islamic World. It is thus imperative for both the
recent years as both have been under pressure
countries to have such sustainable bilateral relations
from global and regional powers. With
which would not only serve their mutual interests in
introduction of new tactics to aid the
economic and political arenas but also incorporate
psychological war in the prevailing situation of
cultural and civilizational dimensions.
extremism in the region as well as the activities
of non-state actors, the third-party players
Nevertheless, the nature of bilateral relations
having interest in volatility of situation find it
between the two countries has not remained ideal.
much easier to create and exploit situations that
There has been some increase in bilateral trade
serve their interests.
during past few years but it is still far behind its true
potential. There have also been incidences of harsh Speaking specifically, the nature of ties with
statements from both or either side in the backdrop America, Saudi Arabia and India have remained
of various incidents at border where smuggling, drug an important, and to a certain degree,
trafficking and movements of non-state actors have determining factor in bilateral relations of
remained a disturbing feature. Policies regarding Pakistan and Iran. While China, on the other

hand, appears to have emerged as a positive Pakistan has an opportunity to take measures to
factor in recent years. The tussle in Afghanistan, mitigate the strife between Iran and Saudi Arabia
terrorism and the war on terrorism, the situation while maintaining balanced relations with both of
of Balochistan in Pakistan and consequently the them. As a matter of fact, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi
role of non-state actors there and the state Arabia (along with Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia and
actions against them, as well as the Shia-Sunni Sudan) are the most important countries of the
sectarian discord are some of the key areas Muslim world. An amity and harmony among
without acquiring harmony upon which it may these countries can play a vital role in resisting
not be possible for Pakistan and Iran to foster the Anti-Muslim atmosphere and conspiracies at
their bilateral relations on strong footings. It is the global level.
thus necessary for both the countries to further
China will assume an even more important role in
their political, economic and cultural ties in the
international affairs in the coming days. While its
given context.
relations with Pakistan are seen as exemplary,
United States being the major player globally as Iran-China relations have also been fostering off
well in the region has failed to show a genuine late. The trigon of Pakistan, China and Iran can
interest in ensuring peace in the region and has bring extraordinary progress to the regions
largely been concerned with its own benefits. The peace, politics and economy. Apparently, this
nature of relationship with the US takes quite does not seem unfathomable. In fact, the
different shapes when seen for Iran and Pakistan significance and importance of such cooperation
distinctly. While Iran is known as a nation and a is already realized by the three countries
state that has taken exception to US policies and especially in the context of CPEC. Undoubtedly,
initiatives, Pakistans trajectory of relations with progress for all is the progress for everyone.
US is a tale of love-hate on both sides.
India is an important country in the region. The
Lately, there have been renewed connections
friction in its relations with Pakistan is well-
between Pakistan and Iran (following US
known. At the same time, the relations between
statements portraying Pakistan negatively)
Iran and India have generally remained good.
whereas the level of mutual cooperation has also
Recently, however, India has hurt Irans interests
improved with the high-level exchanges and
repeatedly for its own interests as well as to
contacts between military and intelligence
foster its strategic relations with the U.S. It is
agencies of both countries over the matters of
often noticed with a surprise in Pakistan that
Afghanistan as well as on the regional scenario. A
despite Indias obvious priorities, Iran offers it
continuity, rather amelioration of these contacts
privileges that result in increasing the influence
is needed to sustain mutual ties and to establish
of India (and consequently of America) in the
common positions on various issues.
region and which also effect the balance of
The historically tense environment between Iran relations between Pakistan and India.
and Saudi Arabia (including the rest of the Arab
There are signs of some change regarding
world) is a sad reality. Although Pakistan has
trajectory of relations with India in the Iranian
always tried to maintain balanced relations with
policy circles due to the hardliner Hindu
both the countries, any friction in relations of Iran
government in power and its generally hostile
and Saudi Arabia also affects relations of Pakistan
behavior towards Muslims. Unless Iranian
and Iran. Currently, Iran-Saudi Arabia strife has
influence on India leads to a change in the overall
been evidently reflecting in Syria, Yemen, Iraq,
Indian attitude, it would be regarded as an
Afghanistan and other areas. The situation has
assuring change for Pakistanis and they would
not ceased even now. The global powers, to serve
naturally like to see it maturing soon.
their own interests, are also engaged in
amplifying the frictions. Though the atmosphere The closeness in Pakistani and Iranian policies
of friction is still continued, there have been following the arrival of Soviet Union in
some progress in improving contacts between Afghanistan played an important role in its failure
Iran and Saudi Arabia. in the region. The decade of 1990s, however, saw
Pakistan and Iran pursuing divergent objectives in

Afghanistan. The distances formed at that time as strategically and with all the factors in sight and
well as the perceptions of continued support for stakeholders onboard.
distinct groups remain a major reason for lack of
Pakistans Balochistan province has always had a
mutual trust.
strategic significance due to its location, largely
The realization for the need to play a supportive untapped and abundant natural resources, a long
and enabling role to help Afghanistan resolve its coastline, and of late especially because of CPEC.
problem is often seen in statements from Regional and extra-regional powers have been
leadership of both the countries. Both countries conspiring to exploit the fault lines as well as
have however failed to evolve any coordinated or weak governance in this region. On the other
mutually discussed measures. Both countries hand, criminal groups involved in drug trafficking,
also share the perception, obviously at social and smuggling and trafficking of humans are also
levels at least, that global and regional powers active here, which have remained a source of
have developed such stakes in Afghanistan for trouble for both states. This province borders
which instability provides more conducive Iran and people have centuries-old relations with
environment. It is encouraging to see in this the people residing across the border. The
situation that there exists a trilateral dialogue concerns of Iran and Pakistan regarding Seistan
mechanism (involving Afghanistan, Pakistan and and Balochistan respectively ask for a closer and
Iran) and it only needs be made more impactful. more frequent interaction. Otherwise, the
external players might exploit the circumstances
Another matter somewhat connected with
to bring both states in clear resentment against
Afghanistan is of terrorism. An unfortunate fact is
each other. Dialogue based on a comprehensive
that the ongoing war against terrorism
strategy and necessary actions while keeping into
throughout the world is being waged without
account all the factors are needed to remove any
even defining the term properly, which means
misunderstandings and mistrust between the
that it can always offer the room for
two countries with regard to the situation in
manipulation and interpretation on the basis of
vested interests or diverse objectives. This, in
practice, means that every country has There have also been several misunderstandings
developed its own definitions and priorities regarding Gwadar port in Balochistan and
regarding terrorism. It should also be accepted Chabahar port in Iran. In view of Indias keen
that there has been a lack of harmony between interest in development of Chabahar and its
Pakistan and Iran over this matter as well. Need increasing anti-Pakistan role in Afghanistan, the
of the time now is to focus on this matter as well mistrust in Pakistan is not unwarranted. This is
during mutual interactions. despite the fact that Indias actual financial
allocation has been slow. Feeling these
One form of terrorism is the violent activities of
sentiments, Iran has publicly denied any Anti-
sectarian organizations. There are certain
Pakistan agenda pertaining to the Chabahar port.
organizations in Pakistan whose activities and
It is also encouraging that the talks are being held
narratives impact Pak-Iran relations negatively.
at different levels (including a joint Pak-Iran
These narratives not only discuss local
parliamentary team) regarding cooperation
perspectives but wider contexts as well, even
between the two ports whereas Iran has also
including complaints in reference to Iranian
made several positive announcements pertaining
Balochistan (Seistan). Apart from confronting
to CPEC.
these organizations involved in hostile activities,
their narratives should also be brought into A big hindrance in realizing the possibilities of
attention. trade is the absence of any mutual banking
mechanism. Recently, there has been some
The factors patronizing sectarian divide have also
progress and final decisions and their practical
involved some religious education institutions
implementation should also be expected soon.
(madaris) in the matter. The situation has played
a role in plaguing the minds of public, and then When it comes to bilateral economic relations,
eventually extending its effects to the the hindering of the project of Pak-Iran gas
governments level. This need be addressed pipeline reflects both a positive and negative

sign. Vast resources of natural gas with Iran and a direct flight between Lahore and Tehran is a
the dire shortage of energy in Pakistan make this good progress in the context of bilateral trade
project extraordinarily important and potentially and establishing people-to-people connections
a win-win project for both the countries. Yet the between the two countries.
project is also a symbol of negative involvement
The academic cooperation and augmentation of
of a third entity between Pakistan and Iran. Iran
contacts between think tanks and higher
rightfully complains that it has done its part on
educational institutions is also mandatory to
the project but Pakistan has not reciprocated. As
establish deep rooted relations between the two
a matter of fact, this project was first sabotaged
countries. Realizing the challenges faced by
by India, and then Pakistan remained under
Muslims in the name of so-called clash of
pressure to abstain from doing its part in view of
civilizations, the opportunities for media and
sanctions imposed on Iran. One should expect
cultural cooperation should also be increased.
that serious efforts will be made in coming days
to sort this matter effectively. The recent start of

Prepared by IPS Task Force | For queries: Mairaj-ul-Hamid, Research Coordinator, IPS ( |