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Iran-Pakistan relations

Iran-Pakistan relations

The Iran-Pakistan nexus

By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

News of the kidnapping of Iranian guards at the Iran-Pakistan border and Iran's accusation of US complicity with Sunni extremists operating from within Pakistan have ignited renewed interest in the ups and downs of relations between Iran and Pakistan.

Historically, different factors have affected Iranian-Pakistani political relations since the creation of Pakistan. As neighbors and Muslim countries, the two have always had close relations.

Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan soon after its independence in August 1947.

During the first decade of independence, successive Pakistani governments attached high priority to establishing bilateral relations with Iran. In the early 1970s, Pakistan's success in ending a powerful separatist insurgency in the province of Balochistan, bordering Iran, would not have been possible without the support of the Iranian military. This, in fact, set the precedence for Pakistan's involvement in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan during the 1980s.

During the 1990s, relations between the two countries declined as a result of two concurrent developments: the rise of anti-Shi'ite terrorist activities in Pakistan and the assassination of Iran's counsel general, Sadeq Ganji, in Lahore in 1990, and subsequently the coming to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

When the Taliban captured the Afghan city of Maza-e-Sharif, they not only massacred thousand of Hazara Shi'ites, they also murdered scores of Iranian diplomats, straining Iran's bilateral ties with Pakistan, which at the time backed the Taliban.

When General Pervez Musharraf came to power in 1999, he visited Tehran and promised to address the terrorist activities in Pakistan; subsequently relations between the two countries improved. After the execution of Ganji's assassin by the Pakistani government in February 2001, Iran gained a new level of confidence in Pakistan's determination to curb anti-Shi'ite extremism in that country.

Still, as long as the Taliban remained in power in Kabul, supported by Pakistan, and Iran was committed to backing the anti-Taliban forces, relations between Iran and Pakistan were held hostage to some extent by the developments inside Afghanistan. The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States and the subsequent fall of the Taliban paved the way for the mending of bilateral relations.

Immediately after the Taliban's demise, Iran's foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, paid a two-day visit to Islamabad and reached an understanding with his Pakistani hosts on the situation in Afghanistan. Both sides agreed to assist in the establishment of a broad-based multi-ethnic government in Afghanistan under the United Nations' auspices.

Another important turning point in Iran-Pakistan relations transpired with president Mohammad Khatami's visit to Pakistan in December 2002, the first by an Iranian president in 10 years. During the visit, both sides discussed how to improve bilateral relations and regional security, focusing especially on Pakistani-Indian relations, in the light of Iran's declared willingness to mediate between them. As a result of Khatami's visit, Iran and Pakistan signed four agreements and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) aimed at enhancing their bilateral relationship, mainly in the fields of trade, plant quarantine, science and technology.

Pakistan's prime minister, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, paid a return visit to Iran in October 2003, and reached a landmark preferential trade agreement. Another agreement was on the revitalization of a trilateral commission among Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan aimed at pushing for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Jamali visited Iran again in February 2004 to attend the Developing Eight (D-8) meeting.

In March 2004, Iran's first vice president, Reza Aref, visited Pakistan. His talks centered on further strengthening the existing cooperation between the two countries. The following agreements were signed during Aref's visit: a preferential trade agreement; an MoU between the export promotion bureaus of the two countries; an MoU to establish a joint investment company; an instrument of ratification of the agreement for avoidance of double taxation; and a customs cooperation agreement.

Economic relations

The most important issue in Iranian-Pakistani economic relations is the low level of economic exchange; both countries need to encourage and increase relations in this sphere. Trade between Pakistan and Iran during 2005 was barely more than half a billion US dollars. Still, this must be considered an improvement over the previous years: trade between the two countries declined in 2001-02 from $394 million to $166 million. Pakistan lost Iranian markets for transport equipment and leather because of reports of delays in shipments of the poor quality of products.

A report prepared by the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry stated that the erection of unnecessary trade barriers caused a reduction in Pakistan's exports to Iran in 2002. Iran canceled an order for Pakistani wheat because of its poor quality. The main reason for the trade deficit between the two countries lay in the differential between Pakistan's exports to Iran and its importation of crude petroleum and furnace oil from Iran at a cost of $141 million (in 2002). In late 2002, Pakistan began to import Iranian electricity for Balochistan province.

On a more positive note, the recent economic reforms in Iran have improved the climate for foreign investment, including by Pakistani companies. Also, Iran has been encouraging the private sector to do business with the neighboring countries. In this regard, the Mutual Economic Cooperation Commission has prepared the ground for economic ties between Iran and Pakistan. The 13th session of this commission, held in December 2002 in Islamabad, completed its work with a note of success, pushing for the enhancement of opportunities for the private sectors of both countries to increase their exchanges.

During 2003-04, the volume of bilateral trade was about $376 million. Trade and economic cooperation was discussed in detail at the 14th session of the Joint Economic Commission held in Islamabad in March 2004. The whole range of economic activity between the two countries was reviewed and ways and means to enhance cooperation were discussed.

The second issue that affects Iranian-Pakistani economic relations is the problem of petroleum smuggling between the two countries. The problem has increased in recent years, fueled by the differential in oil prices across the common border. While several rounds of negotiations have taken place between Iranian and Pakistani officials, they have yet to yield results.

Without doubt, boosting security is important for encouraging commercial relations and preventing cross-border smuggling, notwithstanding the alarming news of kidnapping of more than a dozen Iranian guards at the Iran-Pakistan border this month.

In spite of the above-mentioned problems, there are hopeful signs that the economic and other ties between Iran and Pakistan will improve, particularly if the much-talked-about "peace pipeline" between Iran and India transiting through Pakistan turns into reality; the estimated profit for Pakistan is one-half billion dollars annually. This aside, the two countries are now laying the emphasis on the establishment of a fiber-link network and improved communications and transport links, including the railway systems.

Impact of regional issues

While Iran and Pakistan are neighbors, their regional outlooks are somewhat different as a result of the different type and nature of national security challenges and threats facing each country.

India: Relations with India are an important issue that affects Iranian-Pakistani relations. Pakistan is concerned about the North-South Corridor that Iran and India seek to establish together with Russia. In the light of Iran's good relations with India, Pakistan is concerned about the impact of those relations on its disputes with India - over the core issue of Kashmir as well as other regional and geopolitical issues. Iran has declared its willingness to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir. In his visit to Pakistan, Khatami stated: "We will do everything possible to remove tensions between India and Pakistan." In 2004, when tensions between India and Pakistan escalated, Iran was the first country to contact Musharraf and Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee with a view to defusing the crisis.

The proposed Iran-India gas pipeline via Pakistan remains problematic. On the one hand, this could act as an ideal platform for initiating regional economic interdependence. Iran is the fifth-richest country in mineral reserves, possessing some 10% of world's oil reserves and 14.9% of the world's natural-gas reserves, simultaneously serving as the connection link among a diverse set of regions, the Persian Gulf, the Caspian Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the South Asian subcontinent. In both India and Pakistan, energy demands exceed supplies, while Iran is in an ideal position to play the role of supplier.

While in principle there is no problem between Iran and Pakistan over the proposed gas pipeline, India's lingering security concerns, eg concern that Pakistan would use it as security leverage in the future, hamper the realization of this important project.

Afghanistan: Pakistan and Iran have shared the fallout of decades of upheaval in Afghanistan, partly in the form of millions of Afghan refugees, many of whom have not returned to Afghanistan since the Taliban's downfall in 2001. Since then, Iran and Pakistan have tried to improve relations strained for a decade by policy differences over Afghanistan, both sides coming to a recognition of the fact that sustained peace and stability are in their interests and not only those of the people of Afghanistan.

As a result, both Tehran and Islamabad gave support to the political process initiated in Afghanistan by the Bonn Agreement (among the Afghan political factions) while extending a helping hand to President Hamid Karzai's government in its efforts to rebuild Afghanistan. A first step was the signing of the Kabul Declaration on Good Neighborly Relations by Iran and Pakistan on December 22, 2002.

A serious problem affecting Iran and Pakistan from Afghanistan is the burgeoning drug traffic, which has served as the main financial source for extremist groups, including the remnants of the Taliban. The illicit drug-smuggling networks also serve as a conduit for the transfer of small arms and explosives and for human trafficking. Drug traffickers have been using Iran's territory as the shortest major land route for the transit of narcotics from Afghanistan and Pakistan to Europe.

Iran spends $400 million annually in its effort to control the drug traffic, and Iran and Pakistan need to bolster their security cooperation in their fight against this menace. Both countries could cooperate in attracting international aid on this project as its has much greater repercussions than purely regional ones. On the contrary, the matter affects many countries around the globe, requiring a globalized strategy led by the regional states.

Security cooperation: Over the past few years, Iran and Pakistan have taken several concrete steps to increase their security cooperation, including:
The Pakistani-Iranian Joint Ministerial Commission on security was established in November 2001 to deal with the problems of terrorism, smuggling, sectarian violence, extremism and narcotics. The initial meeting of this commission was held in September 2002.

There has been a renewal in consultations between the foreign ministers of both countries on bilateral relations and on regional and international developments. The first of such consultations was held in July 2001.
Regular interactions between Pakistani and Iranian intelligence officials have been ongoing since October 2001. These interactions are held between senior-level Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Iranian intelligence officials and focus on the future of Afghanistan, Iran's role in seven cultural centers in Pakistan, cross-border broadcasts, etc.
Both countries have agreed to solve security and border issues in a special security committee.

Presence of foreign powers: Iran and Pakistan have somewhat divergent perspectives with respect to the presence of foreign powers in the region. Iran is concerned about the post-September 11 military cooperation between the US and Pakistan. However, both countries share long-term perspectives on how to deal with the intrusiveness of foreign powers in the region. Both Iran and Pakistan, for instance, opposed the United States' unilateral action in Iraq, calling for a central role for the UN.

However, although Iran and Pakistan have reached a basic geostrategic understanding regarding both Afghanistan and Iraq, their relations may be harmed as a result of the hostility between Iran and the US and Pakistan's close relations with both the US and Israel; repeatedly during 2005, Pakistani officials stated their steadfast opposition to any US military strike against Iran via Pakistani territory and/or airspace.

Nuclear cooperation: During the past couple of years, the revelations concerning the transfer of nuclear technology to Iran by the Pakistani network led by Abdul Qadeer Khan have ignited heated debates and discussions about the nature of nuclear cooperation between the two countries. Iran is concerned about the reports of Pakistan's nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Iranian concern is fueled by, among other things, unconfirmed reports of a secret Saudi-Pakistani agreement, harking back to a high-level visit to Pakistan by a Saudi prince in 2003 after a Saudi defense official's visit to Pakistan's nuclear facilities, prompting serious speculations in Tehran that the Pakistani nuclear network headed by Khan might have traded far more sensitive nuclear technology and know-how to the Saudis than it did to Iran. After all, Khan has visited Saudi Arabia on a number of occasions, albeit for the benign purpose of attending conferences, and the Sunni connections between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia run pretty deep.

Saudi officials have denied rumors of an oil-for-nukes pact between Riyadh and Islamabad, but Iranian policymakers are put on guard by such rumors, deemed credible in the light of Pakistan's history, its close ties to Saudi Arabia, and its cash dependency on the oil-rich Saudis. Without doubt, a potential motivating factor, other than Israel, for a Saudi nuclear-weapons program is the alleged existence of such a program in Iran, which in turn may have been influenced by the threats of Saudi nuclearization.

Iran is pleased by the recent statements by Musharraf that Pakistan's nuclear assets are under strict custodial controls and that any clandestine proliferation network has been dismantled.

In conclusion, Iran's and Pakistan's concerns and interests are interlinked in the new regional and international climate. New problems as well as new opportunities have been created for both countries, affecting their bilateral and multilateral relations, since the events of September 11, 2001. Both countries need to devote more energy to boost their economic trade, enhance their security cooperation, and to identify practical ways to tackle the problems facing the region.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume X11, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu.

(Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us for information on sales, syndication and republishing.)

US turns against Musharraf (Jan 12, '06)
Pakistan and Israel deal Iran a blow (Sep 3, '05)
A troubled triangle: Iran, India and Pakistan (Apr 22, '05)
'Brothers' in arms (Mar 18, '05)
Islamabad makes a tradeoff (Mar 18, '05)

Anything that is successful is a series of mistakes

After Pakistangained its independence in August 1947, Iran was the first country to recognize its sovereign status.[1] Pakistan's relations with Iran grew strained at times due to sectarian tensions, as Pakistani Shias claimed that they were being discriminated against under the Pakistani government's Islamisation programme.[2]

Iran and Saudi Arabia used Pakistan as a battleground for their proxy sectarian war, and by the 1990s Pakistan's support for the Sunni Taliban organisation in Afghanistan became a problem for Shia Iran, which opposed a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.[3]

Nevertheless, economic and trade relations continued to expand in both absolute and relative terms, leading to the signing of a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries in 1999.[4] Both countries are founding members of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO). At present, both countries are cooperating and forming alliances in a number of areas of mutual interest, such as fighting the drug trade along their common border and combating the Balochistan insurgency along their border. Iran has expressed an interest joining the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.[5][6][7]

Polls have consistently shown that a very high proportion of Pakistanis view their western neighbor positively.[8][9] Ayatollah Khamenei has also called for the sympathy and assistance of many Muslim nations, including Pakistan.[10]

Relations during the Cold War[edit]

Main articles: Cold War (1947–53) and Cold War (1953–62)

Iran maintained close relations with Pakistan during much of the Cold War.[11][1] Iran was the first country to recognise Pakistan as an independent state, and the Shah of Iran was the first head of state to come on a state visit to Pakistan (in March 1950).[1] Since 1947, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, had successfully advocated a policy of fostering cordial relations with Iran in particular and the Muslim world in general.[1] Despite Shia-Sunni divisions, Islamic identity became an important factor in shaping Iranian–Pakistani relations, especially after the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

In May 1950, a treaty of friendship was signed by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and the Shah of Iran. Some of the clauses of the treaty of friendship had wider geopolitical significance.[12] Pakistan found a natural partner in Iran after the Indian government chose to support Egyptian PresidentGamal Abdel Nasser, who was seeking to export a pan-Arab ideology that threatened many of the more traditional Arab monarchies, a number of which were allied with the Shah.[12] Harsh V. Pant, a foreign policy writer, noted that Iran was a natural ally and model for Pakistan for other reasons as well. Both countries granted each other MFN status for trade purposes; the shah offered Iranian oil and gas to Pakistan on generous terms, and the Iranian and Pakistani armies cooperated to suppress the rebel movement in Baluchistan.[12] During the Shah's era, Iran moved closer to Pakistan in many fields.[1] Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey joined the United States-sponsored Central Treaty Organisation, which extended a defensive alliance along the Soviet Union's southern perimeter.[1] Iran played an important role in the Indo-Pakistani war of 1965, providing Pakistan with nurses, medical supplies, and a gift of 5,000 tons of petroleum. Iran also indicated that it was considering an embargo on oil supplies to India for the duration of the fighting.[1] The Indian government believed that Iran had blatantly favored Pakistan.[1] After the suspension of United States military aid to Pakistan, Iran was reported to have purchased ninety Sabre jet fighter planes from West Germany, and to have sent them on to Pakistan.[1]

Although Pakistan's decision to join the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) in 1955 was largely motivated by its security imperatives regarding India, Pakistan did not sign on until Iran was satisfied that the British Government was not going to obstruct the nationalization of British oil companies in Iran.[1] According to Dr. Mujtaba Razvi, Pakistan likely would not have joined CENTO had Iran not decided to do so.[1]

Iran again played a vital role in Pakistan's 1971 conflict with India, this time supplying military equipment as well as diplomatic support against India. The Shah described the Indian attack as aggression and interference in Pakistan's domestic affairs;[13] in an interview with a Parisian newspaper he openly acknowledged that "We are one hundred percent behind Pakistan".[13]Iranian Prime MinisterAmir-Abbas Hoveida followed suit, saying that "Pakistan has been subjected to violence and force."[13] The Iranian leadership repeatedly expressed its opposition to the dismemberment of Pakistan, fearing it would adversely affect the domestic stability and security of Iran[13] by encouraging Kurdish separatists to rise up against the Iranian government.[13] In the same vein, Iran attempted to justify its supplying arms to Pakistan on the grounds that, in its desperation, Pakistan might fall into the Chinese lap.[13] On the other hand, Iran changed its foreign priorities after making a move to maintain good relations with India.

The breakup of Pakistan in December 1971 convinced Iran that extraordinary effort was needed to protect the stability and territorial integrity of its eastern flank. With the emergence of Bangladesh as a separate State, the "Two-nations theory" received a severe blow and questions arose in the Iranian establishment as to whether the residual western part of Pakistan could hold together and remain a single country.[14] Events of this period caused significant perceptional changes in Tehran regarding Pakistan.

When widespread armed insurgency broke out in Pakistan's Balochistan Province in 1973, Iran, fearing the insurgency might spill over into its own Balochistan Province, offered large-scale support.[15] The Iranians provided Pakistan with military hardware (including thirty Huey cobra attack helicopters), intelligence sharing, and $200 million in aid.[16] The government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto declared its belief that, as in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, India was behind the unrest. However, the Indian government denied any involvement, and claimed that it was fearful of further balkanisation of the subcontinent.[16] After three years of fighting the uprising was suppressed.[16]

In addition to military aid, the Shah of Iran offered considerable developmental aid to Pakistan, including oil and gas on preferential terms.[14] Pakistan was a developing country and small power, while Iran, in the 1960-70s, had the world's fifth largest military and a strong industrial base, and was the clear, undisputed regional superpower.[13][17] However, Iran's total dependence on the United States at that time for its economic development and military build-up had won it the hostility of Arab world.[13] Tensions arose in 1974, when Mohammad Reza Pahlavi refused to attend the Islamic Conference in Lahore because Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had been invited to it, despite the known hostility between the two.[13] In 1976, Iran again played a vital and influential role by facilitating a rapprochement between Pakistan and Afghanistan.[1]

Iran's reaction to India's 1974 surprise nuclear test detonation (codenamed Smiling Buddha) was muted.[14] During a state visit to Iran in 1977, Bhutto tried to persuade Pahlavi to support Pakistan's own clandestine atomic bomb project.[14] Although the Shah's response is not known, there are indications that he refused to oblige Bhutto.[13]

In July 1977, following political agitation by an opposition alliance, Bhutto was forced out of office in a military coup d'état.[1] The new military government, under General Zia-ul-Haq, was ideologically ultraconservative and Islamically oriented in its nature and approach.[1]

Iranian revolution[edit]

The 1979 Iranian Revolution transformed Pakistan and Iran into rivals instead of partners.[18] Bhutto's ouster was followed a half year later by the Iranian Revolution and overthrow of the Shah of Iran. Iran's new Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, withdrew the country from CENTO and ended its association with the United States.[1] The religiously influenced military government of Zia-ul-Haq and the Islamic Revolution in Iran suited one another well, and as such there was no diplomatic and political cleavage between them.[1] In 1979, Pakistan was one of the first countries in the world to recognize the revolutionary regime in Iran. Responding swiftly to this revolutionary change, Foreign Minister of PakistanAgha Shahi immediately undertook a state visit to Tehran, meeting with his Iranian counterpartKarim Sanjabi on 10 March 1979.[1] Both expressed confidence that Iran and Pakistan were going to march together to a brighter future.[1] The next day, Agha Shahi held talks with the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in which developments in the region were discussed.[1] On 11 April 1979, Zia famously declared that "Khomeini is a symbol of Islamic insurgence".[1] Reciprocating President Zia's sentiments, Imam Khomeini, in his letter, called for Muslim unity.[1] He declared: "Ties with Pakistan are based on Islam."[1] By 1981, however, Pakistan, under Zia-ul-Haq, had once again formed close ties with the United States, a position it has remained in since.[1]

Pakistani support for Iran during the Iran–Iraq war[edit]

Main articles: Iran–Iraq War and Pakistan and the Iran–Iraq War

While Pakistan remained neutral during the Iran-Iraq War, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's attempts to export the Iranian revolution fueled tensions between Pakistan's Sunnis and Shias.[19] The militancy of Shia inspired by revolutionary Iran left many Pakistani Sunni feeling deeply threatened.[20] President Zia, despite his pro-Saudi and anti-Shia sentiments,[20] had to manage his country's security carefully, knowing that Pakistan risked being dragged into a war with its closest neighbor because of its alliance with the United States.[20] In support of the Gulf Cooperation Council, formed in 1981, around 40,000 personnel of the Pakistan Armed Forces were stationed in Saudi Arabia to reinforce the internal and external security of the region.[20] Although high-ranking members of Pakistan Armed Forces strongly objected to the killing of Shia pilgrims in the 1987 Mecca incident in Saudi Arabia, Zia did not issue any orders to Pakistan Armed Forces-Arab Contingent Forces to engage any country militarily.[20] Many Stinger missiles shipped to Pakistan for use by Afghan mujahideen were instead sold to Iran, which proved to be a defining factor for Iran in the Tanker war.[20]

Soviet integration and Afghan civil war[edit]

Main articles: Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and War in Afghanistan (1978–present)

In December 1979, the Soviet Unioninvaded fragile Communist Afghanistan to protect its interests in Central Asia and as response to American dominance in the Middle East, in notably Israel, Iran, and many Arab states. In 1980, the Iraqi attack on Iran, and subsequent Soviet support for Iraq, improved Iranian ties with Pakistan.[12] Pakistan focused its covert support on the sectarian Pashtun groups while Iran largely supported the Tajik groups, though they all fought as Afghan mujahideen.[12]

After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the rivalry between Iran and Pakistan intensified.[21] After 1989, both state's policies in Afghanistan became even more divergent as Pakistan, under Benazir Bhutto, explicitly supported Taliban forces in Afghanistan.[22] This resulted in a major breach, with Iran becoming closer to India.[22] Pakistan's support for the Sunni Taliban organisation in Afghanistan became a problem for Shia Iran which opposed a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.[3] The Pakistani backed Taliban fought the Iranian backed Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and gained control of 90 percent of that country.[21] As noted by a Pakistani foreign service officer, it was difficult to maintain good relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Iran at the same time, given Iran's long history of rivalry with these states.[22] In 1995 Bhutto paid a lengthy state visit to Iran, which greatly relaxed relations. At a public meeting she spoke highly of Iran and Iranian society.[23] However, increasing activity by Shia militants in Pakistan strained relations further.[12] This was followed by the Taliban's capture of the city of Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998, in which thousands of Shias were massacred, according to Amnesty International.[12] The most serious breach in relations came in 1998, after Iran accused Taliban Afghanistan of taking 11 Iranian diplomats, 35 Iranian truck drivers and an Iranian journalist hostage, and later killing them all.[12] Iran massed over 300,000 troops on the Afghan border and threatened to attack the Taliban government, which it had never recognized.[12] This strained relations with Pakistan, as the Taliban were seen as Pakistan's key allies.[12] In May 1998, Iran criticised Pakistan for its nuclear testing in the Chagai region, and held Pakistan accountable for global "atomic proliferation".[24] New Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif acknowledged his country's nuclear capability on 7 September 1997.[25] Before making the announcement, Sharif directed a secret courier to Israel via Pakistan Ambassador to United NationsInam-ul-Haq and Pakistan Ambassador to the United States Dr. Maliha Lodhi, in which Pakistan gave utmost assurance to Israel that Pakistan would not transfer any aspects of its nuclear technology or materials to Iran.

Bilateral and Multilateral visits in the late 1990s[edit]

In 1995, Prime MinisterBenazir Bhutto paid a state visit to Iran to lay the groundwork for a memorandum on energy, and begin work on an Energy security agreement between the two countries. This was followed by Prime MinisterNawaz Sharif's visit to Tehran for the 8th OIC Summit Conference on 9–11 December 1997. While there Sharif held talks with PresidentKhatami, with a view to improving bilateral relations, as well as finding a solution to the Afghan crisis.[26]

Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf paid a two-day visit to Tehran on 8–9 December 1999. This was his first visit to Iran (and third international trip) since his military coup d'état of 12 October 1999 and subsequent seizure of power in Pakistan. In Iran, Musharraf held talks with Iranian PresidentMohammad Khatami[27] and with the Iranian Supreme LeaderAli Khamenei.[28] This visit was arranged[29] to allow Musharraf to explain the reasons for his takeover in Pakistan.[30]

The meetings included discussions on the situation in Afghanistan, which were intended to lead both countries to "coordinate the policies of our two countries for encouraging the peace process through reconciliation and dialogue among the Afghan parties".[31][32]

In 1998 Iran accused Pakistani troops of war crimes at Bamiyan in Afghanistan and claimed that Pakistani warplanes had, in support of the Taliban, bombarded Afghanistan's last Shia stronghold.[33][34]

Relations since 2000[edit]

Since 2000, relations between Iran and Pakistan have begun to normalize, and economic cooperation has strengthened. The 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States changed the foreign policy priorities of both Iran and Pakistan.[12] The George W. Bush administration's tough stance forced President Pervez Musharraf to support Washington's War on Terror, which ended Taliban rule in Kabul. Though Iranian officials welcomed the move, they soon found themselves encircled by U.S. forces in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the Persian Gulf.[12]

President Bush's inclusion of the Islamic Republic as part of an "Axis of Evil" also led some Iranian officials to presume that Tehran might be next in line for regime change, ending whatever détente had occurred in Iran–U.S. ties under Khatami.[12] Bush's emphasis on transformative diplomacy and democratization worried Iranian leaders further.[12]

More recently, Iran and Pakistan have joined forces and engaged in co-operation to contain insurgency in Balochistan which has included the severe use of force and been a cause of human rights concern.[35]

Bilateral visits after 2000[edit]

In April 2001, the Secretary of Supreme National Security CouncilHassan Rowhani (who is President of Iran since August 2013) paid a state visit to Pakistan and met with Pervez Musharraf and his cabinet.[4] During this visit, Iran and Pakistan agreed to put their differences aside and agree on a broad-based government for Afghanistan.[4][36]

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi paid a two-day visit to Islamabad from 29–30 November 2001.[37] Kharazi met with Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar[38] and President Musharraf.[39] Iran and Pakistan vowed to improve their relations, and agreed to help establish a broad-based, multi-ethnic government under U.N. auspices.[40]

The President of Iran, Mohammad Khatami, paid a three-day state visit to Pakistan from 23–25 December 2002, the first visit by an Iranian head of government since 1992.[41] It was a high-level delegation, consisting of the Iranian cabinet, members of the Iranian parliament, Iranian Vice-President and President Khatami.[41] This visit was meant to provide a new beginning to Iran–Pakistan relations.[42][43][44] It would also allow for high-level discussions on the future of the Iran–Pakistan–India pipeline (IPI) project.[45] Khatami met, and had detailed discussions, with both President Musharraf[46][47] and the new Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali.[48][49] Several accords were signed between Iran and Pakistan in this visit.[50] Khatami also delivered a talk on "Dialogue Among Civilizations," at The Institute of Strategic Studies.[51] The presidential delegation initially visited Islamabad, and then followed that up with a visit to Lahore,[52] where Khatami also paid his respects at the tomb of Allama Sir Muhammad Iqbal.[53] A Joint communique was issued by Iran and Pakistan on the conclusion of Khatami's visit.[54] On his return to Tehran, Khatami evaluated the trip as "positive and fruitful".[55]

As in return, Jamali paid a state visit in 2003 where he held talks with economic cooperation, security of the region, and better bilateral ties between Pakistan and Iran.[56] During this visit, Jamali gave valuable advises to Iranian leadership on their nuclear programme "against the backdrop of the country's" negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and measures to strengthen economic relations between the two countries.[57]

Military and security[edit]

Iranian support for Pakistan dates back to the 1960s when Iran supplied Pakistan with American military weaponry and spare parts after America cut off their military aid to Pakistan.[58] After 1971 Indo-Pakistani War, new Prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto immediately withdrew Pakistan from CENTO and SEATO after Bhutto thought that the military alliances failed to protect or appropriately assist Pakistan and instead alienated the Soviet Union. A serious military cooperation between took place during the Balochistan insurgency phases against the armed separatist movement in 1974–77.[59] Around ~100,000 Pakistan and Iranian troops were involved in quelling the separatist organisations in Balochistan and successfully put the resistance down in 1978–80.[59] In May 2014, the two countries agreed to joint operations against terrorists and drug traffickers in the border regions.[60] In May 2016, Iran warned Pakistan of cross border military action if Pakistan did not reign in militants operating against Iran from its soil.[61]

Iran's view on Kashmir issue[edit]

On 19 November 2010 Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appealed to Muslims worldwide to back the freedom struggle in Jammu and Kashmir, equating the dispute with the ongoing conflicts of the Greater Middle East region.

"Today the major duty of the elite of the Islamic Ummah is to provide help to the Palestinian nation and the besieged people of Gaza, to sympathize and provide assistance to the nations of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Occupied Kashmir, to engage in struggle and resistance against the aggressions of the United States, the Zionist Regime..."[62][63] He further said that Muslims should be united and "spread awakening and a sense of responsibility and commitment among Muslim youth throughout Islamic communities".

The thrust of his speech was directed at Israel, India, and the US, but also made a veiled reference to Pakistan's nuclear program:

"The US and the West are no longer the unquestionable decision-makers of the Middle East that they were two decades ago. Contrary to the situation 20 years ago, nuclear know-how and other complex technologies are no longer considered inaccessible daydreams for Muslim nations of the region."

He said the US was bogged down in Afghanistan and "is hated more than ever before in disaster-stricken Pakistan".

A former president of Iran (1981–89), Khamenei succeeded Ayatollah Khomeini as the spiritual head of the Iranian people. A staunch supporter of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Khamenei is believed to be highly influential in Iran's foreign policy.

Khamenei visited Jammu and Kashmir in the early 1980s and delivered a sermon at Srinagar's Jama Masjid mosque.

Atoms for Peace cooperation[edit]

See also: Atoms for Peace

Since 1987, Pakistan has steadily blocked any Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons; however, Pakistan has wholeheartedly supported Iran's viewpoint on the issue of its nuclear energy program, maintaining that "Iran has the right to develop its nuclear program within the ambit of NPT." In 1987 Pakistan and Iran signed an agreement on civil nuclear energy cooperation, with Zia-ul-Haq personally visiting Iran as part of its "Atoms for Peace" program.[64] Internationally, Zia calculated that this cooperation with Iran was purely a "civil matter", necessary for maintaining good relations with Tehran.[64] According to IAEA, Iran wanted to purchase fuel-cycle technology from Pakistan, but was rebuffed.[64] Zia did not approve any further nuclear deals, but one of Pakistan's senior scientists did secretly hand over a sensitive report on centrifuges in 1987–89.[64] In 2005, IAEA evidence showed that Pakistani cooperation with Iran's nuclear program was limited to "non-military spheres",[65] and was peaceful in nature.[65] Tehran had offered as much as $5 billion for nuclear weapons technology in 1990, but had been firmly rejected. Centrifuge technology was transferred in 1989; since then, there have been no further atoms for peace agreements.[65]

In 2005, IAEA evidence revealed that the centrifuge designs transferred in 1989 were based on early commercial power plant technology, and were riddled with technical errors; the designs were not evidence of an active nuclear weapons program.[66]

Non-belligerent policy and official viewpoint[edit]

Difficulties have included disputes over trade, and political position. While Pakistan's foreign policy maintains balanced relations with Saudi Arabia, the United States, and the European Union, Iran tends to warn against it, and raised concerns about Pakistan's absolute backing of the Taliban during the fourth phase of civil war in Afghanistan in the last years of the 20th century.[12] Through a progressive reconciliation and chaotic diplomacy, both countries come closer to each other in last few years. In the changing security environment, Pakistan and Iran boosted their ties by maintaining the warmth in the relationship without taking into account the pressures from international actors.[67]

On Iran's nuclear program and its own relations with Iran, Pakistan adopted a policy of neutrality, and played a subsequent non-belligerent role in easing the tension in the region. Since 2006, Pakistan has been strategically advising Iran on multiple occasions to counter the international pressure on its nuclear program to subsequently work on civil nuclear power, instead of active nuclear weapons program.[68] On international front, Pakistan has been a great advocate for Iranian usage of nuclear energy for economics and civil infrastructure while it steadily stop any Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons, fearing another nuclear armed race with Saudi Arabia.[69]

In a speech at Harvard University in 2010, the Pakistan's foreign ministerShah Mehmood Qureshi justified Iran's nuclear program as peaceful and argued that Iran had "no justification" to pursue nuclear weapons, citing the lack of any immediate threat to Iran, and urged Iran to "embrace overtures" from the United States. Qureshi also observed that Iran had signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and should respect the treaty.[70]

Trade and Economics[edit]

Relations between Iran and Pakistan improved after the removal of the Taliban in 2002, but tensions remain. Pakistan has been under a strong influence of Saudi Arabia in its competition with Shiite majority Iran for influence across the broader Islamic world, which it already has in its allied nations Lebanon and Syria. Iran considers northern and western Afghanistan as its sphere of influence since its population is Persian Dari speaking. Pakistan considers southern and eastern Afghanistan as its sphere of influence since it is Pashto and Baloch speaking such as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan, respectively. Pakistan expressed concern over India's plan to build a highway linking the southern Afghanistan city of Kandahar to Zahidan, since it will reduce Afghanistan's dependence on Pakistan to the benefit of Iran.

Free Trade Agreement[edit]

In 2005, Iran and Pakistan had conducted US$500 million of trade. The land border at Taftan is the conduit for trade in electricity and oil. Iran is extending its railway network towards Taftan.

The Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline (IPI Pipeline) is currently under discussion; though India backed out from the project. The Indian government was under pressure by the United States against the IPI pipeline project, and appears to have heeded American policy after India and the United States proceeded to sign the nuclear deal. In addition, the international sanctions on Iran due to its controversial nuclear program could also become a factor in derailing IPI pipeline project altogether.

Trade between the two countries has increased by £1.4 billion in 2009.[71] In 2007-08, annual Pakistan merchandise trade with Iran consisted of $256 million in imports and $218.6 million in export, according to WTO.[72]

Bilateral trade[edit]

On 12 January 2001, Pakistan and Iran formed a "Pakistan-Iran Joint Business Council" (PIJB) body on trade disputes.[73] The body works on to encourage the privatization in Pakistan and economic liberalization on both sides of the countries.[73] In 2012, the bilateral trade exceeded $3 billion.[74] Official figures from the State Bank of Pakistan for fiscal year 2011-12 indicate imports of $124 million and exports of $131 million, which had collapsed to $36 million of exports to Iran and less than $1 million of imports for the year to April 2015. In 2011, the trade between Iran and Pakistan stood at less than $1 billion and the common geographical borders as well as religious affinities are among other factors, which give impetus to enhanced level of trade.[74] According to the media reports, Iran is the second-largest market of Basmati rice of Pakistan, ranking after Iraq.[75]

Effects of US sanctions on Iran[edit]

Main article: U.S. sanctions against Iran

The U.S. economic sanctions on Iran regarding their nuclear program generally effected Pakistan's industrial sector.[76] The fruit industry of Pakistan have reportedly lost a lucrative market in Iran, where at least 30,000 tons of mango were exported previously, as a result of the trade embargo imposed by the United States on Tehran.[76] According to the statistics by Pakistan, the fruit industry and the exporters could not export around $10 million worth of mango during the current season.[76] The Ministry of Commerce (MoCom) has been in direct contact with the US Department of Agriculture to resolve the issue through diplomatic channels.[76]


Iran–Pakistan gas pipeline[edit]

Main articles: Iran–Pakistan gas pipeline and Energy Security

Discussions between the governments of Iran and Pakistan started in 1994 for the gas pipelines and energy security.[77] A preliminary agreement was signed in 1995 by Prime MinisterBenazir Bhutto and Iranian PresidentAkbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, in which, this agreement foresaw construction of a pipeline from South–North Pars gas field to Karachi in Pakistan. Later, Iran made a proposal to extend the pipeline from Pakistan into India. In February 1999, a preliminary agreement between Iran and India was signed.[78]

Iran has the world's second largest gas reserves, after Russia, but has been trying to develop its oil and gas resources for years, due to sanctions by the West. However, the project could not take off due to different political reasons, including the new gas discoveries in Miano, Sawan and Zamzama gas fields of Pakistan. The Indian concerns on pipeline security and Iranian indecisiveness on different issues, especially prices. The Iran-Pakistan-India (denoted as IPI Pipeline) project was planned in 1995 and after almost 15 years India finally decided to quit the project in 2008 despite severe energy crises in that country.

In February 2007, India and Pakistan agreed to pay Iran US$4.93 per million BTUs (US$4.67/GJ) but some details relating to price adjustment remained open to further negotiation.[79] Since 2008, Pakistan began facing severe criticism from the United States over any kind of energy deal with Iran. Despite delaying for years the negotiations over the IPI gas pipeline project, Pakistan and Iran have finally signed the initial agreement in Tehran in 2009. The project, termed as the peace pipeline by officials from both the countries, was signed by President Zardari and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. In 2009, India withdrew from the project over pricing and security issues, and after signing another civilian nuclear deal with the United States in 2008.[80][81] However, in March 2010 India called on Pakistan and Iran for trilateral talks to be held in May 2010 in Tehran.[82]

According to the initial design of the project, the 2,700 km long pipeline was to cover around 1,100 km in Iran, 1,000 km in Pakistan and around 600 km in India, and the size of the pipeline was estimated to be 56 inches in diameter. However, as India withdrew from the project the size of the pipeline was reduced to 42 inch. In April 2008, Iran expressed interest in the People's Republic of China's participation in the project.[83]

Since as early as in 2005, China and Pakistan are already working on a proposal for laying a trans-Himalayan pipeline to carry Middle Eastern crude oil to western China.[84] Beijing has been pursuing Tehran and Islamabad for its participation in the pipeline project and willing to sign a bilateral agreement with Iran. China and Pakistan are already working on a proposal for laying a trans-Himalayan pipeline to carry Middle Eastern crude oil to western China.[84] In August 2010, Iran invited Bangladesh to join the project.[85]

Power Transmissions[edit]

Tehran has provided €50 million for laying of 170Km transmission line for the import of 1000MW of electricity from Iran in 2009. Pakistan is already importing 34MW of electricity daily from Iran. The imported electricity is much cheaper than the electricity produced by the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) because Iran subsidises oil and gas which feed the power plants.[86] Iran has also offered to construct a motorway between Iran and Pakistan connecting the two countries.[87]

Diplomacy and role in mediation[edit]

Since Iran has no diplomatic relations with the United States; the Iranian interests section in the United States is represented by the Embassy of Pakistan Embassy in Washington. Iranian nuclear scientist, Shahram Amiri, thought to have been abducted by CIA from Saudi Arabia, took sanctuary in the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, D.C. The Iranian government claimed the United States has trumped up charges they were involved with the 9/11 attacks.[88]

Diplomatic missions[edit]

Iranian missions in Pakistan[edit]

Iran's chief diplomatic mission to Pakistan is the Iranian Embassy in Islamabad. The embassy is further supported by many Consulates located throughout in Pakistan.[89] The Iranian government supports Consulates in several major Pakistan's cities including: Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar.[89] Iranian government maintains a cultural consulate-general, Persian Research Center, and Sada-o-Sima center, all in Islamabad.[89] Other political offices includes cultural centers in Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Quetta, Hyderabad, and Multan.[89]

  • denotes mission is Consulate General
  • denotes mission is Khana-e-Farhang (lit. culture center)

There is also an Iran Air corporate office located in Karachi Metropolitan Corporation site.[89]


Main articles: Iranians in Pakistan, Pakistanis in Iran, and Pakistan Technical Assistance Programme

In the Balochistan region of southeastern Iran and western Pakistan, the Balochi people routinely travel the area with little regard for the official border, causing considerable problems for the Iranian Guards Corps and the Frontier Corps of Pakistan. Both countries have ongoing conflicts with Balochi separatist groups.

Since 2010, there has been an increase in meetings between senior figures of both governments as they attempt to find a regional solution to the Afghan war and continue discussions on a proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline and an Economic Cooperation Organization.[90]

Iranian media delegations have been visiting Pakistan annually since 2004, with many journalists settling in Pakistan. These visits have played an effective role in promoting mutual understanding and projecting a positive image of Pakistan in Iran.[91]

Notable Pakistani political figures Benazir, Murtaza, and Shahnawaz Bhutto were half Kurdish-Iranian on their mother's side.

Pakistan missions in Iran[edit]

Pakistan's chief diplomatic mission to Iran is the Pakistan Embassy in Tehran. It is further supported by two consulates-general located throughout in Iran.[92] The Pakistan government supports its consulates in Mashhad and Zahidan.[92]


Pakistan International School and College Tehran serves Pakistani families living in Tehran.

See also[edit]

1976 Iranian postage stamp featuring Pakistan's founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah
Pakistan Consul General met with the Mayor of Mashhad
Modified image of Iran-Pakistan national gas pipeline.

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