Regional & National Security Concerns | Ali Ashraf Khan

WHILE one can always find faults with our politicians and complaints about their failing in leading the nation, we should also not miss the moments that are promising. Among the positive developments that have taken place recently is the obvious effort to improve relations with our Iranian neighbour and of strengthening ties in many fields. The visiting Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Admiral Ali Shamkhani during a much noticed visit met with Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz at the Foreign Office and later with the newly appointed National Security adviser Lieutenant General Nasir Khan Janjua (R) who has been recently appointed after an unblemished record of service in the troubled waters of Balochistan, where he during 2014-15 did a good job in creating an atmosphere of reconciliation and harmony among agitating tribal leaders.

Moreover since the country is engaged in what is being termed as our existential war since June, 2014 and also because of the beating of war drums along the Line of Control (LoC) since the advent of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India and the intense heat that is being generated from across the Durand Line, it was perhaps thought appropriate to appoint a man who had just taken off the uniform to the position of NSA. Therefore, there is no doubt about the new NSA, Lt General Naseer Khan Janjua (R) assuming this strategically highly critical office straight from the Army as Pakistan due past negligence and continued adhocracy in civil service has politicised civilian bureaucracy to an extent that they are now unable to cope with the national requirements and the Army had to come for help of the civilian governments. Today he is a civilian with result-oriented dynamic record in Balochistan.

Iran having had concerns in the past on border crossings by some local well as Afghani miscreants that had not been addressed properly, which now with new incumbent of NSA will lead to a meaningful cooperation between Iran and Pakistan that had been missing before and the initiative taken by Iran of holding meetings with NSA and arriving on some purposeful results is possible now with General Nasir Janjua a man understanding the nitty gritty of these relation better than others.

But there is more to these meetings than that. Iran is a longstanding friendly neighbour of Pakistan and despite the ups and downs in our relations both have been reliable partners. Iran was among the first countries to recognize Pakistan and to welcome it in the community of nations. My personal experience of association with RCD SAP working on cultural and educational cooperation saw Iran’s meaningful support for Pakistan during the 1965 war with India including not only supplying oil to cater for our requirements but extending open arm policy for using Iranian airfields also.

Today both countries have many common concerns, first of all security related. Pakistan is sharing with Iran a long border line and a good part of population, namely the Balochi people and our trouble in Balochistan is hardly resolvable without good coordination and cooperation withIran. And then there is Afghanistan – a neighbour to both of our countries again with a shared long border and population in both countries. The future situation in Afghanistan is vitally impacting Pakistan and Iran; thus security related cooperation in this field is a must.

While there have been many efforts in the past to improve the relations with Iran maybe this time a real change will come. I vividly remember that over a dozen or so industries were selected to become RCD joint venture projects including a Hydro-Cracker project, RCD Highway and Rail linkage to International routes, which could not materialize due to unknown reasons. Now in the changing international scenario we must take a decisions that suits our two countries without looking atrequirements of world chess game. Such a decision if taken then that would be good news for our economic cooperation as well and may be finally the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline would now materialize. That would be really a step in the right direction. While we don’t know how many years – if ever- it would take until energy projects running through Afghanistan like Casa and Tapi would come true the IP pipeline can be made working in months not years with sincere and honest approach .

Iran’s offer to invest in Balochistan is another good news. While surely security related issues have taken the larger part of the interaction with the Iranian delegation it is a positive development that other, especiallyeconomic topics have been discussed. One Iranian offer that certainly should be considered was the one of switching our trade. At the moment ourbilateral trade is less than 300 million dollars which could be easilyboosted to five to ten billion if both countries decide to trade in their own local currencies, this proposal could not succeed in the past due to our reluctance as US had imposed sanctions on Iran, now US is improving ties with Iran so Pakistan should make a fast move keeping in view our own mutual interests on top. Pakistan can export Fruits and Vegetables, Textile made-ups and services also.

For Pakistan it is a good sign as well that we are improving the relations with our neighbours who know us and understand us and share the same regional issues. The world is changing and it is changing fast and it is of utmost importance for Pakistan to understand these changes and act accordingly. Stronger ties with neighbours and within the region are surely a means to stabilize it and be able to start realizing the many opportunities that are slumbering, which we cannot afford.

To achieve those objectives there would be need for a fundamental rethinking of the relationship with Iran if bilateral tradeand investment are to be ramped up and the security relationship expanded beyond historically narrow concerns, our cooperation can yield fruitful results for the benefit of our people. Obviously, for that to happen, security is the first and foremost demand. That is why Iran’s engagement in Afghanistan and their offer to cooperate in the promotion of new peace talks with the Taliban is welcome move. God Bless Pakistan-Iran fraternity.

—The writer is a senior columnist based in Karachi.


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