css Academy
Register Now

Pakistan and Iran: The potential for a great alliance

Reza HasanJune 22, 2022 [Express Tribune

Marred by sectarian violence, opposing interests, differing foreign policies and failed economic possibilities, Pakistan-Iran relations have soured throughout the years. As a result, Islamabad has seldom explored the possibility of deeper relations with its western neighbour.

Although Pakistan and Iran co-operate on a multitude of different platforms and sectors, the degree of cooperation has often been tested, and a considerable amount of blame for this falls on Pakistan’s shoulders. Shackled by its external constraints, primarily in the form of American influence, the risk of Saudi alienation, and the sanctions on Iran, Pakistan has consistently remained reluctant to pursue deeper relations. Iran, on the other hand, has shown a willingness to strengthen bilateral ties, the chief example being the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. Islamabad’s lack of interest has not gone unnoticed in Tehran.

Indignant about Pakistan’s ambivalent foreign policy, Iran has sought a closer relationship with India, which has proven to be a resourceful and trustworthy partner. In direct competition with Pakistan’s Gwadar port, Indian support helped Iran mobilise Chabahar as a major oceanic port in the region. Furthermore, Indian influence in Iran has helped India to indirectly meet its nefarious interests against Pakistan, particularly vis-a-vis Balochistan and Southern Afghanistan. As a result, Islamabad’s lack of interest in seeking a meaningful relationship with Iran has weakened its overall influence and created a region where Pakistan is becoming increasingly cornered.

However, the obstacles which once sought to hinder Pak-Iran relations are now beginning to wither away, paving the way for a potentially great alliance.

One of the biggest challenges Pakistan faces when it comes to Iran is pressure from its ally, the United States (US). America has been explicitly vocal against any form of cooperation between Iran and Pakistan, and it is no secret that it has sabotaged numerous initiatives between the two nations. However, following the war in Ukraine, America has had a change of heart. With the threat of a severe energy crisis inexorably hitting the developed and developing world, America has confronted the situation by re-engaging with countries that it once had vowed to eschew.

In March 2022, after years of estrangement, a senior American delegation had a rare face-to-face meeting with the Nicolas Maduro government in Caracas, Venezuela, the world’s most oil-rich country. The meeting had a one-point agenda: replace Russian oil with Venezuelan oil. Similar energy-focused engagements with Libya have also been undertaken by the US. More interestingly, the Biden administration has felt the JCPOA agreement (Iran Nuclear Deal) should be revived to relieve Iran of its sanctions and benefit from its abundant gas and oil supplies. Talks in Vienna are already underway and major headway is being made, highlighting the possibility that a deal could once again be struck.

America’s change in position is driven purely out of necessity for its own self-interest; however, with no end in sight in Ukraine, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the US is adopting softer attitudes toward its oil-rich adversaries, in particular Iran. For Pakistan, this is a now or never opportunity: capitalise on the west’s relaxation now and secure deals with Iran or delay the opportunity and ultimately face the wrath of the west.

Another hurdle Pakistan faces when it comes to Iran is the Saudi Arabian question. Any venture with Iran risks the upsetting of ‘brotherly’ Saudi Arabia, and although Pakistan has remained explicitly neutral in the pair’s cold war – through the training, support, and cooperation with its armed forces – it is clear that Islamabad indirectly sides with Riyadh. As a result, Pakistan’s alliance with the Saudis bars it from exploring real terms with Iran.

In the past year, however, there have been growing signs of rapprochementbetween the two arch rivals. Through the meditation of Iraq and Oman, Saudi Arabia and Iran have been willing to sit at the peace table and are now engaging in their fifth round of direct talks. Furthermore, with the cessation of hostilities in Yemen as well as the re-opening of the Iranian representative office in the OIC, analysts are hopeful that the two countries are finally coming to some form of an agreement, and the possibility of re-establishing diplomatic missions is not too far fetched.

As for Pakistani gains in light of such developments, they are significant. Not only can Islamabad now engage peacefully with Tehran, without alienating Saudi Arabia, but it can also facilitate further reconciliation between the two countries and emerge as a key mediator of peace in the region.

With the roadblocks to cooperation finally lifting, Pakistan and Iran can pave the way for a great alliance. This alliance can take two forms, one of an economic dimension and the other of a non-economic one. However, the beauty of a Pak-Iran alliance is not in its business prospective nor the cultural linkages but in the fact that it is mutually beneficial. At home, both Iran and Pakistan face pressing issues of different kinds, yet both sides can help each other solve their respective problems.

The major cornerstone of Pak-Iran relations has been the proposed Pakistan-Iran (IP) gas pipeline, a proposition which can mutually benefit both sides simultaneously. Stretching from South Pars all the way to Punjab, the 1900km pipeline would provide inestimable value for both Pakistan and Iran. As it currently stands, however, the IP gas pipeline is an opportunity fading away. Despite the project’s inception nearly a decade ago, the pipeline has yet to even start. Iran’s side of the pipeline is built but has simply been left to rust, while Pakistan’s side is waiting to start construction.

The causes of Pakistan’s lack of initiative is due to the abovementioned external pressure coupled with internal distrust, leading to the project’s early abandonment. However, this can all change. As stated before, Iran’s rapidly changing geopolitical image, as well as the easing of Pakistani challenges vis-a-vis foreign policy could usher in a new wave of enthusiasm. The IP gas pipeline could finally restart and ultimately benefit the two countries immensely.

Plagued with severe energy shortages, depleting indigenous sources and inchoate industries, Pakistan is on the brink of energy starvation. So far, loans and expensive imports have kept the energy sector afloat, but these are short-term solutions and are unsustainable in the long run. As for local energy sources within the country, they too have proven insufficient.

Ultimately, Pakistan will need to increase its imported energy, preferably at cheap and subsidised rates. Once revived, however, the IP gas pipeline can solve the majority of these problems. Providing 22 million cubic metres of gas a day, and electricity generation equivalent to nearly 4,500 megawatts, the pipeline would be able to meet nearly all of Pakistan’s current electricity shortfall. Furthermore, compared to its current import from countries such as Qatar, Iranian LNG is far more affordable.

From a geopolitical perspective, the IP gas pipeline can cement Pak-Iran relations and effectively thwart expanding Indian influence in the region. What’s more interesting is that in 2016, China expressed the desire to invest in the pipeline and expand it into its own borders. Iran welcomed Chinese interest and sweetened the deal by expressing interest in joining the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). If Iran joins, an unparalleled trifecta in the region could emerge, hence promoting development, peace and stability. Although it is too early to tell right now, initial willingness from different countries has shown that the IP gas pipeline could be a catalyst for extraordinary cooperation in the region and beyond.

For Iran, the IP gas pipeline could provide much-needed relief to its ailing economy. Crippled by years of brutal sanctions, Iran has failed to effectively monetise its abundant oil and gas supplies, and as a result, has suffered from abysmally low GDP figures. Notably absent from LNG and oil markets, Iran is missing out and is eager to establish itself as a force in the economic world. Moreover, Iran has lacked an iron brother-like alliance with any of its neighbours to assist in alleviating its crises. For example, Iraq is embroiled in constant turmoil and lacks stability for any strong alliance to emerge, while neighbours in the Caucasus do not see eye-to-eye with Iran. However, an economic alliance with Pakistan is not only stable and safe, but the market of 220 million people can provide ample opportunity for Iran to fulfil its economic needs.

Over the past decades, an environment of trepidation and apprehension has developed in place of a potentially fraternal relationship between Pakistan and Iran. The two countries have continually looked away from one another, opting to search thousands of miles away for rather unsustainable and short-lived alliances. However, as Pakistan and Iran unshackle themselves from the constraints of geopolitics, they must look towards one another for a better future.

Negotiations for peace

No doubt, history is full of examples of conflicts ending on the talks table; but peace at what cost?

Dr Syed Akhtar Ali ShahJune 29, 2022

The mainstream and social media are abuzz with stories on the ongoing negotiations with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Powerful circles are upbeat about the results of the talks. While PPP and ANP, part of the sitting coalition government, are quite skeptical and have demanded parliamentary oversight of the whole process. 

Among the TTP demands are withdrawal of troops from the merged tribal areas; reversal of the merger of the tribal areas with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa; and enforcement of their version of Shariah through Nizam-e-Adl regulation in Malakand.

There are reports that a number of high-ranking militants have already been released as a gesture of goodwill. The government is also reported to have offered safe passage to TTP for entry into Pakistan from Afghanistan in exchange for the TTP agreeing to a long-term ceasefire, dissolving the militant outfit and joining mainstream politics. But, the TTP is sticking to its two major demands: substantial reduction of military in the merged districts and rollback of the 25th constitutional amendment resulting in the merger of the tribal agencies with of K-P. However, the government is reluctant to accept these two demands.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah’s recent statement that a peace pact with the TTP would be within the framework of the Constitution is quite encouraging for those who want rule of law and supremacy of the Constitution to prevail. Since Pakistan is a sovereign and constitutional democracy, no militant group or individual has the right to dictate where security forces can and cannot be stationed. Similarly, an amendment to the Constitution has to done under the free will of the elected public representatives. Therefore, reversing a constitutional process on the demand of a group having a few thousand members (4,000, according to reports) will send wrong signals all across the country. As for the demand for enforcement of Shariah, it must not be forgotten that ‘The Shariah Nizam-e-Adl Regulation, 2009’ to provide for Nifaz-e-Nizam-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi through Courts in the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas under an agreement with the same elements had already been enforced in Malakand. Besides, Pakistan is an Islamic republic where no law can be passed against Quran and Sunnah. All penal laws and personal laws are in accordance with Islamic provisions. 

In view of a spike in the acts of terrorism, mostly carried out against the security forces, before the ceasefire, the government was in a fix whether to go ahead with the peace talks with TTP or carry out operations against their members. Also, since the main hideouts of the militants were across the border, there were certain constraints on taking action against them, like the Afghan Taliban government not being on board. The option of talks thus appeared more feasible. 

No doubt, history is full of examples of conflicts ending on the talks table. But peace at what cost or on what terms has always been the most important question. Peace with honour or with humiliation. With the federal interior minister being on record to have assured compliance with the Constitution over the talks with TTP, it is pertinent to mention here that under Article 5 of the Constitution, loyalty to the State and obedience to the law and the Constitution is a basic duty and inviolable obligation of every citizen of the country. Since waging a war against the State or indulging in sedition fall in this category, one is justified to ask whether amnesty should be offered to those who waged a war against the State and were labeled as proxies of the enemy. An answer to this is indeed not easy.

One would like to take the interior minister’s statement on face value and trust that the rule of law will prevail. No individual or organisation would be treated as above the law and pass through the due process of trial. 

The State must also understand that currently they are in a strong position against the TTP as compared to the period between 2006 and 2014 when insurgency was rife to the extent that certain parts of the country were out of the state writ. Now the space for Taliban has been squeezed, and it will be difficult for them to operate in the country if a proper check is maintained. Negotiators from the government side are in a position to force the TTP to agree to abide by the law of the land. 

There are, however, concerns that any truce may only bring temporary solace, proving to be counterproductive in the long run. If the past experience is any guide, the risks are quite high. Once given amnesty, the TTP men will get the much-needed legitimacy. They will thus be free to move in the country, reorganise, recruit and train; and will be in a position to garner mass support in favour of their “mission”. They would not wait too long to rise again on gaining sufficient strength.

Therefore, the State must ensure that in case of a peace pact, the TTP men are not allowed to act as an organisation or reassemble under a new name. Guarantors must also be there to take action in case of a violation.

Security forces are duty-bound to act to preserve sovereignty of the State. Presence of violent non-state actors who hold sway in some area and dictate their terms to the people comes in negation of the concept of state sovereignty. Any impression of weakness as to the sovereignty of the State must be undone. Connected to this is the concept that in a political order, State has to perform its role to ensure public order. Failure on this count may lead to a fragile statehood. The absence of effective security governance will be treated as the inability of the State to tackle the problems of transnational security. 

All said and done, durable public order free from violent non-state actors is imperative for stability, progress and fulfillment of fundamental rights.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2022.


Site Menu
User Name:
Signup or
Forget your password?
Apply Online Now !!!
Job Search
| | | | |
Copyrights © Nova CSS Academy
Powered By XTRANZA®