Our screaming shouting media found another reason to scream and shout about last week. The agreement between Iran and India to develop the Chabahar port and a trilateral transit accord that included Afghanistan as well, were projected as a conspiracy against Pakistan and clear proof that Iran had teamed up with our hostile neighbors to complete our isolation in the neighborhood. Was this uproar justified? Or did it serve to obfuscate the actual hurdles that stand in the way of deepening a win-win Pak-Iran relationship?

The Iranian Ambassador to Pakistan has since set the record straight on Chabahar and the $500 million deal with India to develop the port but our media prophets of doom don’t seem interested in paying attention to anything that upsets the scheme of their gloomy scenarios. Speaking at a seminar on Pak-Iran relations in Islamabad, the ambassador pointed out that Iran had offered the port development deal to Pakistan and China before signing it with India. Obviously, the media hype missed the point.

Besides, according to the ambassador, “The Chabahar agreement is not limited to three countries and doors are always open for Pakistan and other regional nations to join the deal”. He also said that there was no rivalry between the ports of Chahbahar and Gwadar and “In fact, both these ports complement each other”. Was the ambassador just being diplomatic and saying all these nice things to allay Pakistan’s apprehensions? I don’t think so.

It has been reported that Pakistan and Iran are working on plans to link Chabahar and Gawadar with Chinese cooperation. This fits in with the vision of regional integration being spearheaded by China. The CPEC and Gwadar are perhaps the most important elements of that vision in our part of the world, but surely they are not all there is to it. Iran and Central Asian states are integral parts of the envisioned network of roads, rail links, pipelines and other infrastructure projects. The first train from China has already arrived in Tehran.

A bit of perspective is surely in place. The key word in the emerging ethos of regional integration is win-win cooperation and not zero-sum competition with neighbors. To view the Iran-India deal on Chabahar as a threat to Gwadar and a conspiracy against the CPEC and Pakistan is, therefore, more than a bit misplaced. Granted that India is making moves that signal a clear drift on part of the country towards the US and its motives to sign the Chabahar deal might not be constructive, it would be really far-fetched to view Iran as a country that would join hands with India to subvert the vision of regional integration.

One must also consider the fact that until its recent betrayal, India had positioned itself as a key partner in BRICS that subscribed to the values of a multipolar world. Add to this the history of good relations between Iran and India, and the Chabahar deal hardly comes across as the evil plot that it is being painted as by some. In any case, in a world fluid with possibilities, right moves on our part could offset any danger that it might entail.

When it comes to forging a strong relationship with Iran, Pakistan has a natural advantage over India. But we need to do our bit to actualise that potential. Since the lifting of sanctions, Iran is talking to everyone and new avenues of trade and cooperation are being sought by it. Before we start getting all antsy about the Chabahar deal, perhaps we should take a look at how our government has responded to Iran’s efforts at deepening cooperation with Pakistan.

The foot-dragging on Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is the most glaring example of our government’s attitude towards Iran. Despite the lifting of UN sanctions, our Petroleum Minister keeps repeating the mantra of sanctions as the reason for not completing our part of the pipeline. Is he talking about the executive formalities that we need to undertake or the pressure from the US that has opposed the project from day one? Iran’s offer to supply us electricity has similarly been spurned.

On his recent visit to Islamabad, President Rouhani offered to ensure Pakistan’s energy security and proposed measures to expand trade. Beyond the hypocritical slogans of brotherhood and hollow display of bonhomie, our government has done precious little to take concrete measures in order to translate these lucrative possibilities into reality. I guess it is waiting for a nod from the US to do that.

A section of our national media is similarly serving the purpose of driving a wedge between the two countries. It created and played up a controversy during President Rouhani’s visit regarding the discussion between the army chief and the visiting president.

An ISPR press release had stated that the army chief expressed his concern that RAW is involved in Pakistan, especially Balochistan, and sometimes it also uses the soil of our brother country, Iran. In his press conference, President Rouhani was asked whether the army chief brought up Kulbushan Yadav, the RAW agent apprehended from Balochistan, and he said this wasn’t discussed. Obviously, these are two different things and the two statements did not contradict each other. But the media made it come across as if one of them was lying.

Isn’t it odd that our media pundits took it in their stride when India signed agreements with Saudi Arabia that included cooperation in counter-terrorism and defence, but alarm bells started ringing when it came to the Iran-India deal on developing the Chabahar port for trade?

Strengthening of ties between Pakistan and Iran would be a big boost not only for the two countries but also for the prospects of regional peace and integration. We need to cooperate on Afghanistan and for countering militancy and separatism that is being fuelled in Balochistan on our side and theirs. Ground realities and the dynamics of geopolitics are pushing us in each other’s arms. But clearly, our government and media prophets of doom and gloom are doing all they can to drive us apart.