Pak-Iran Cooperation in Post-Trump Era

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Iranian Foreign Minister, Javed Zarif, has recently concluded his two-day visit to Pakistan for what has been his fourth trip to the country in past 2 years. The timing of the trip is significant as it came at a time which was marked by Trump’s defeat in US Elections of 2020. Officially, the visit was aimed at promoting bilateral relations in the fields of economics, defence and regional cooperation. Hence, it is vital to analyse the significance of Pak-Iran ties.

The relationship between both Pakistan and Iran has always been dissuaded by the US-factor since 1979. The US-Saudi nexus has prevented Pakistan to foster the significant partnership with Iran, however, after the lifting of sanctions from Iran in 2015, the relations between the two has seen the enormous enthusiasm. The two countries are in talks to gain mutual benefits by linking the Chahbahar Port of Iran with that of Gwadar Port of Pakistan. However, the Trump’s decision to withdraw from JCPOA and the re-imposing the sanctions on Iran have seen the downturn yet again in the cooperation between the Pakistan and Iran. Although Pakistan has advocated in the favour of Iran and tried to persuade US to re-enter into the deal, still the practical aspect of the cooperation remained absent.

However, after the Trump’s defeat in the elections and the events that has occurred in the past one year, the prospects of cooperation range in the variety of fields. The foremost issue penetrating into the policy circles of both the states in the issue of illegal border-crossing, smuggling and cross-border attacks through Pak-Iran border. The Indian spy, Kulboshan Jadhav, is believed to enter Pakistan through Iran. Similarly, both the states are concerned about the attacks on each other’s security personnel from across the border. In this regard, the telephonic conversation between General Qamar Bajwa and Iranian General Muhammad Bagheri took place in May 2020. Through border management and fencing, Pakistan is expected to save millions of dollars in drug trafficking while the establishment of joint border security force would help in boosting the security and intelligence ties between the two countries.

Moreover, the most recent development that has the global implications is the $400 Billions of Chinese investments inside Iran. Although the agreement is yet to be finalized but for Pakistan, the opportunity has emerged after Iran dropped India from the Chahbahar Railway Project. Iran is also critical of Indian growing ties with Israel and its treatment of Kashmiri Muslims. Additionally, Iran and China are cooperating with each other due to their joint opposition to US policies in the Middle East. Hence, China can prove to be the bridging factor between Pakistan and Iran to cooperate in economic spectrums. The cold ice regarding the Indian involvement in the strategic port of Chahbahar has been shattered to an extent which provides Pakistan a window of opportunity to collaborate actively with Iran.

The striking factor of the recent visit of Iranian FM to Pakistan is the presence of Iran’s chief diplomat for Afghanistan, Ibrahim Taheriyan, in the official delegation which depicted the cooperation between the two countries in the wake of US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Iran has welcomed the peace process inside Afghanistan which has been shaken by the recent terrorist activities in Afghanistan. The post-US withdrawal scenario is still marked with uncertainty due to the dreadful activities of splinter groups and ISIS, which aim at sabotaging the peace deal. The Afghanistan saga has the regional implications for both Pakistan and Iran, both of whom are hosting the Afghan refugees. The closer cooperation between Pakistan and Iran serves Pakistani purpose of thwarting the Indian presence inside Pakistan and to work with regional countries after the US withdrawal.

Conclusively, the aforementioned features could have been difficult to attain during the Trump’s presidency. However, the new President-Elect, Joe Biden, is expected to reconcile with Iran over the JCPOA. This would enable other countries to enter into a meaningful engagement with Iran. Regarding defence and economics, Pakistan has the bright chance to extract the benefits from Iran. Since the UN arms embargo has been lifted from Iran this year, Pakistan is now in a better position to sale its military equipment to Iran like the JF-17 Thunder fighter jet. Iran is already struggling to maintain its military machinery which is now considered as outdated. Similarly, both Pakistan and Iran can revive their partnership under the banner of Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) which also includes Turkey. The ITI Railway Project (Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul) which aims at connecting Central Asia with Europe, is already underway. Hence, to upgrade the projects, Pakistan and Iran now require the mutual and long-lasting cooperation to promote regional prosperity and peace.

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