The Iranian foreign minister, a shrewd diplomat who engineered the Iran nuclear deal with the West against overwhelming odds, is on a three day official visit to Pakistan in an effort to enhance pitifully low trade volume, sort out bilateral problems and hold talks on terrorism and other regional matters. Heading a high-level 30-member delegation, he is expected to meet civilian and military bigwigs, address an influential think tank and economic forum, and finally with his large entourage of business persons, visit the country’s economic hub, Karachi. Unfortunately, despite much bonhomie, especially at people level, past experience shows that the Pak-Iran political relations, otherwise expected to be brotherly and good neighbourly, are in fact intricate and complex, for various reasons. The recent upsurge in leadership contacts has helped to eschew direct confrontation, and hopefully the present visit would prove in the nature of a breakthrough, as both countries face nearly identical internal and external threats.
Relations with India and Saudi Arabia are perceived to be the main bone of contention between the two. Pakistan’s close ties with the Kingdom are looked upon with suspicion by Tehran, although it is not in the former’s own interest to be involved in a shooting war based on a personalised, sectarian misadventure, while Pakistan looks askance at Iran’s deepening ties with existential threat India, and recent leasing of Chahbahar to the Indians, though it is being assured that the port would not be used against Pakistan. The threat of increased US sanctions on Iran, the latter’s difficulties with European Union over its missile programme, Pakistan’s anemic economy, the FATF sword hanging over its head, make close economic liaison, especially in trade, of the utmost importance for both. Pakistan’s commercial banks should vigorously take the lead in promoting commerce, and government prudently settle the long delayed Pakistan end of the Iran gas pipeline, a big hurdle in ties and trust. Bilateral annual trade target of Rs.5 billion from the current Rs1.2 billion should now be a top priority. Applying the rigid, Maoist formula of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, can only bring twin grief in the Pak-Iran case.