Pakistan & Iran: Moving Towards a Regional Consensus?

Written By: Moeed Pirzada


Given this regional context and expected increase in hostilities, visit by Pakistan’s Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa assumes even greater importance. It serves to assure Iran of Pakistan’s neutrality in any emerging regional scenario. Pakistan’s improved political stock in Tehran may, at some stage, be an asset in terms of reducing misgivings between Iran and the GCC countries.

Indian and Western media – and many so called liberal commentators in Pakistan – have often claimed that Pakistan has acquired hostile neighbors all around, and that this list includes Iran. This impression has been changing in the last few months but in November Indian and Western political pundits were rudely shocked when Pakistan’s COAS was seen visiting the Headquarters of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).


Pakistani Army Chief’s visit to the Headquarters of Iranian Revolutionary Guard, in full glare of TV cameras, came days after Rex Tillerson, U.S. Secretary of State, issued a warning to the whole world that anyone doing transactions with IRGC would be doing that at his own expense. Pakistan’s subtle message that our country is “free to choose its friends” was obvious. This visit was important also because of another reason: it came at a time when new hostilities surfaced between Iran and the Saudi-led GCC countries. Pakistan, that maintains close relations with Saudi Arabia and UAE, was doing the delicate balancing act. Pakistan’s ex-Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif has a leading position in the Islamic Military Alliance (IMA) organized by Saudi Arabia.

 

pakiranmovintowards.jpgIt was in this complex international and regional setting that Pakistan and Iran, after series of meetings in the first week of November between Iran’s civil and military leaders with Pakistan’s visiting COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa, gave signs of a growing consensus on several issues including peace in Afghanistan, threat of ISIS, border management in Balochistan and Kashmir dispute.


Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who was on a three-day visit to Iran to improve operational coordination and consensus on shared regional concerns, expressed hope that the relations between the two countries will further improve and that their differences will be resolved amicably through dialogue. Both countries have smoothed the chinks that surfaced in their relations when Indian intelligence agency RAW’s officer, Kulbhushan Jadhav was caught inside Pakistan, close to the Iranian border. Paksitan produced the evidence that Kulbhushan was running a RAW (Research & Analysis Wing) intelligence and sabotage cell, from the Iranian port of Chabahar, against Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Pakistan had unearthed the interlinked evidences which showed that Kulbhushan who was a naval expert on deputation to RAW from the Indian Navy, was assigned to direct operations, utilizing Indian supported assets in Balochistan against China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).


Pakistani intelligence sources confirm that Iranian authorities have booted out the RAW cell that was organized by Kulbhushan Jadhav in Chabahar. However, they suspect that RAW might have had some success in replacing that unit with newer outfits that remain undetected. Iranian territory remains attractive to Indian intelligence for destabilizing Balochistan – this can also haunt Iran at some stage, and Pakistanis are eager to convince Iranians on this.


On their part, Iranians, since the Islamic revolution of 1979, have suspected – and at times accused – that Pakistani territory in Balochistan is being used by either the Western or the Gulf state agencies against Iranian interests and for stoking insurgencies in their territory. So when Western and Indian media mention Iran’s reservations towards Pakistan to prove that Pakistani policies are injurious to all its neighbors, they often deliberately ignore the fact that Iranian suspicions have centered around the abuse of Pakistani territory by Western or Western backed interests against Iran. While Pakistani intelligence sources believe that Baloch insurgents like Dr. Allah Nazar have taken refuge in Iran, they are also clear that Iran shows this flexibility to only maintain a leverage for itself and Iran and Pakistan have no real strategic, historic or territorial disputes.


General Qamar Javed Bajwa, during his November visit, held series of meetings with virtually everyone in Iran’s executive structure. He met with President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami, Head of Iran’s military, Maj-General Mohammad Bagheri, and visited headquarters of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – setting new levels of deeper institutional engagement. Summing up his interaction, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa said: “Pakistan and Iran are two brotherly neighbors with a shared history, culture and religion,” adding that, “both armies also have a history of defense collaboration and cooperation which has great mutually benefiting potential for its enhancement.”


Ali Khamenei’s support for Kashmir?
In a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart, DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor thanked Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for his supportive statements on Kashmir. Both sides reaffirmed their resolve for peace in Afghanistan, their concerns on the rise of ISIS in Afghanistan and announced measures for better border management and coordination.


Pakistani side alerted Iranian counterparts that given their actions against terror outfits and strong management of border with Afghanistan, elements supported by other powers may try to create disturbances on Pak-Iran border. Iran agrees to fence its border; both sides agreed for hotline contacts between their field commanders, better coordination and intelligence sharing.

 

Pakistan Army Chief visit’s immediate importance lies in developing a common regional view towards the situation in Afghanistan, and Balochistan and the shared resolve that both countries won’t let any third power use their territories against the other. Visit and meetings reinforce the Pak-Iran understanding that greater force projection, by the U.S. in Kabul won’t work. This is a position that is increasingly being shared by Russia and China – seeds of a new regional order are already here.

These meetings, as earlier mentioned, came at a time when not only the Trump administration is trying to increase pressure upon Tehran, threatening to unilaterally abrogate the U.S.-Iran Nuclear deal but tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia are also exacerbating. Saudi Arabia has berated and blamed Iran for the missile attack by Houthi rebels in the Saudi capital Riyadh in the first week of November, terming it as an “act of war”. Moreover, the resignation of Saad Hariri from the premiership of Lebanon (citing Iranian intervention in internal affairs of his country as a reason) has increased tensions between the two Middle Eastern countries – though Iranian and Lebanese government have blamed Hariri’s resignation on Saudi strategies to create instability in Lebanon.


Given this regional context and expected increase in hostilities, visit by Pakistan’s Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa assumes even greater importance. It serves to assure Iran of Pakistan’s neutrality in any emerging regional scenario. Pakistan’s improved political stock in Tehran may, at some stage, be an asset in terms of reducing misgivings between Iran and the GCC countries.


However, Pakistan Army Chief visit’s immediate importance lies in developing a common regional view towards the situation in Afghanistan, and Balochistan and the shared resolve that both countries won’t let any third power use their territories against the other. Visit and meetings reinforce the Pak-Iran understanding that greater force projection, by the U.S. in Kabul won’t work. This is a position that is increasingly being shared by Russia and China – seeds of a new regional order are already here.

 

The writer is a known TV Anchor, Editor Strategic Affairs with a private TV channel and a prominent blogger, columnist and political commentator. He

tweets at: @MoeedNj.

 
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