Use of neighbouring soils as launching pad for hostile intelligence agencies for disruptive and subversive purposes is not uncommon. The cardinal question is whether it is in the know of the government of the neighbouring country. In Pakistan’s setting India has been using Iranian and Afghan territories for such purposes. Successive Afghan governments have been in the know of this activity, and at times, active partner in some activities of Indian intelligence outfits. While in case of Iran, in all probability, Indian intelligence agencies have been operating without the knowledge of Iranian government. In this context the message by Pakistan’s Army Chief to visiting Iranian President: “Sometimes [RAW] also uses the soil of our brother country, Iran. I request they should be told to stop these activities and allow Pakistan to achieve stability,” was appropriate.
However, this message should have originated from the foreign office in the form of an ambassador level Demarche. It could have either been made public or handled discreetly. In case it was necessary to originate such signalling from Army Chief’s office, then confidentiality should have been discreetly guarded. A step back was in order after denial of discussion on this point by Iranian President. Judging by diplomatic norms, the message was strongly worded. And the standard diplomatic practice is that the text of any press statement meant to be released after such meetings is usually agreed to by both sides and then made public. Sometimes, the issues discussed are not made public due to the sensitivities involved. It was quite embarrassing for the government of Pakistan, it further strengthened the notion of much talked about parallel centre of power in Pakistan.
The militarised version of diplomacy was indeed a faux pas, giving God sent opportunity to vested interests to unleash a spree of comments maligning Iran and its leadership. The issue of detained Indian spy-cum-terrorist operative Commander Kulbhushan Yadav is not linked with Iran. It has to do with India. It however does not mean that Pakistan-Iran relations are free of fault lines—mainly ethno-sectarian— that provoke violence at societal level. However, both countries have a history of prudently managing the trouble spots. Since the Islamic revolution in Iran, Pakistan is in the cross fire of sectarian based global cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Notwithstanding, whenever Saudi-Iran tensions spike, Pakistan takes upon itself to cool the tempers. Pakistan resisted from being sucked into the Saudi-Iranian conflict in Yemen, earlier sectarian crisis in Bahrain and recent crisis after the execution of a Saudi Shia religious scholar by Saudi Arabia. Pakistan as a nation does not believe in sectarianism. All the proxies against Pakistan aimed at creating sectarian divide have failed. Pakistan’s effort to settle crises in Yemen and Syria is testimony of its stance on such issues which has been appreciated by international community. However, Pakistan’s joining of 34 country Saudi led alliance has not gone down well with Iran. Pakistan will have to watch its steps with regard to role and task of this alliance, especially in the context of Iran.
Kulbhushan Yadav, was arrested in a raid near the Pak-Afghan border town of Chaman, in Balochistan. He was in contact with Baloch separatists and terrorists fuelling sectarian violence and subversion. Yadav was deployed in Iran’s Chabahar port before crossing into Balochistan. Indian has invested heavily in the development of this port and is also investing billions of rupees in the Special Economic Zone in Chabahar. Chabahar port gives India access to Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan. Though the two ports are not substitute for each other, as each belongs to different category, both Iran and India view Gawadar as rival port of Chabahar. However, recently an MOU has been signed between Iran and Pakistan declaring these as sister ports.
Notwithstanding the spy issue, Iran has always proved itself as a confident partner and neighbour for Pakistan and the western borders of Pakistan have never been militarised. Iran considers its borders with Pakistan as borders of peace and friendship.
Iran has conveyed to Pakistan that it is investigating whether an Indian spy arrested last month in Balochistan crossed the border illegally or was picked up from its soil. India has already claimed that Yadav was picked up from the Iranian soil. India putting pressure on Iran to register a case against Pakistani agencies. India is also seeking to enlist support of the United States, the United Kingdom and France to convince Iran to go by its claim that Yadav was kidnapped from the Iranian soil. New Delhi has even threatened Tehran to choose between Pakistan and India, leaving Iran in a quandary.
Pakistan has irrefutable evidence of Yadav crossing over into Balochistan from Iran. Pakistan would present the evidence to the world, if Iran decided to follow the Indian version. Pakistan has already handed over evidence regarding Yadav’s arrest to key world powers, including the US and UK, they have not yet responded; these powers had quickly responded when India approached them over the January 2 attack on Pathankot airbase, which in all probability was a false flag operation by Indian intelligence agencies.
Iran was the first country to recognise Pakistan after its independence. Along with Turkey, the trio formed the RCD, which later evolved into ECO. The warmth and depth of ties between the two countries can be judged by the fact that during the 1965 war with India, Iran sided with Pakistan. It also helped quash the insurgency in Balochistan. During 2010 floods in Pakistan while appealing to Iranian public for helping flood effected people, Supreme leader broke-down into tears. Over the years Iran’s stance on Kashmir has become more favourable to Pakistan. Visit by Iranian President was very significant because of the emerging geopolitical situation in the region.
Imposition of sanctions on Iran because of the nuclear issue had limited the scope of trade between the two countries. The Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline also became a casualty of tensions between the US and Iran, and India withdrew from the project. Pakistan could not construct the much-needed portion of the pipeline on its side due to the UN sanctions. Pakistan kept the project alive under difficult circumstances. Iran has urged Pakistan to build the IP gas pipeline section on its side as soon as possible. Pakistan needs gas from Iran and the lifting of the sanctions on Iran by the UN has also removed the hurdles in its way. China has also indicated its willingness to contribute to the construction of the pipeline. Pakistan should avail the opportunity.
In the backdrop of lifting of sanctions against Iran, the visit of the Iranian president provided a unique opportunity to transform relations. Pakistan Iran relations are certainly not hinged on Yadav issue. As investigations by Pakistan and Iran conclude, both countries would soon come to a close on this matter. They would obviously put this behind and move forward on a path of enduring partnership.
The writer is a freelance columnist.