The President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani and his March (25th-26th)high ranking politico-economic goodwill delegation visited Pakistan, with a mission to establish long-term multifaceted ties. Included were 60 Iranian businessmen, to explore cooperation in variety of fields. On his first visit, little did he expect that his country would be subjected to a series of onslaughts, with orchestrated perfection. First came those inappropriate tweets by Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), followed by a barrage of blasts against Iran by a number of newspapers and TV talk show hosts and some guests. The theme being that there is a strong espionage linkage between Iran and our Eastern neighbor, India. The discovery of a spy network headed by Chabahar based Indian RAW officer Kulbhushan Yadav came at an awkward time, right in the middle of otherwise renewed productive engagement between the two countries. Without, giving any benefit of doubt to the hosts, or to wait for their response it was presumed that Iran is a “culprit” and has facilitated the process of Indian spying, spreading from Balochistan to Karachi. Few cared to question Pakistan’s highly budgeted intelligence agencies for this lapse, which as we heard went on for years. This offense against Iran continued in full public domain. There was no hint of concession, while the bewildered Pakistani populace watched with disbelief. The government had no clue to deal with this ugly situation. Sure, RAW’s activities must be a cause of concern for Pakistan, but the manner this issue was brought in the forefront is uncalled for. These matters are taken diplomatically and with prudence. There is no reason to believe that Iran would not have cooperated with Pakistan. After all, the Indian misused the Iranian hospitality and embarrassed the host government. Secondly, an attempt to destabilize Balochistan has serious fallout on the Iranian side, as well.

Sensing an out of control anti-Iran hype by certain interests, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar in the absence of Foreign Minister and muteness of the Prime Minister, came forward for damage control. Addressing a press conference, he emphasized that Iran is not part of Indian negative pursuits and that Pakistan-Iran ties has received a jolt.

Iran is a brotherly neighbor with whom Pakistan has close cultural, historic and religious ties. The Iranian president during his recent first visit shared Pakistan’s concerns in economic and strategic requirements, with a promise to cooperate. He went on to say that Iran has completed its gas pipeline till the Pakistani border, and offered to bridge the electricity gap in the coastal areas of Balochistan. Both the leaders also took into account the possibility of connecting Iranian Port Chahbahar with that of Gwadar, along with opening two additional crossing points to facilitate trade, in particular.

On this occasion six understandings were agreed upon, the “Five-Year Strategic Trade Cooperation Plan”, being the most prominent. It was felt that present meager trade would be elevated to 5 billion US dollars by 2021. In the past (2008-2009) the volume of trade was just 1.32 billion dollars, which decreased to 432 million in 2010-2011.The other areas of cooperation being, insurance, culture, higher education, health and medicine.

President Hassan Rouhani repeatedly stressed the fact that his country has close cultural and natural linkages with the Pakistani society. Urdu literature derives heavily from the Farsi works and he quoted AllamaIqbal, Abdallāh Shīrāzī and Hāfez-e Shīrāzī, in this regard. While Maulana Rumi, Iqbal’s “guide”, wrote his poetry in Farsi, as did Iqbal, in half of his poetic masterpieces. Moreover, the Iranian contribution to the Mosaic of Islamic Civilization is tremendous, only to mention Ibn Sena, the great physician, whose books remained as text books in European Universities, for centuries.

Pakistan’s Ayub Khan while addressing the Iranian Senate pointed towards the commonalities between the neighbours. While speaking to the Iranian people said: “It is not only through a common culture and religious heritage that our nations are linked together – historically, we have been one nation in the past, geographically we have a common border and ethnologically we are of the same stock”.

In the past, Iran supported Pakistan during the two wars against India. It was the first to recognize Pakistan in 1947,and only nation to applaud its nuclear capability, in 1998. The Iranian Foreign Minister visited Islamabad to convey his government’s facilitations. It has to be recalled that Pakistan and Iran synchronized their policies towards Afghanistan, during the Soviet invasion of that country, a neighbor to both. This coordination continued till the emergence of Taliban in 1996. Iranian Foreign Minister was a frequent visitor to Islamabad. The relations saw a downhill trend due to Pakistan’s support for the Taliban, while Iran sided with the Northern Alliance. However, the relations never got out of control. In 2011, a Trilateral Summit dialogue between the three neighbours was held in Tehran, in which the three Presidents agreed to boost ties and extend cooperation for common goals. This was followed by another Trilateral Summit in 2012 at Islamabad, where President Ahmedi Nejad and President Zardari in their bilateral talks called for the “expeditious implementation of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, the 1,000MW electricity transmission line for the import of electricity from Iran and the 100MW power supply from Iran for Gwadar Port”. When Nawaz Sharif became Prime Minister in 2013, the relations between the two neighbours went on the back burner. His personal financial ties with the Saudi royal family squeezed the opportunities to further ties with Iran, till recently, when some confused contacts are made with Iran.

The question of Iranian seaport of Charbahar has been raised time and again arguing that there is a heavy Indian investment in the development of that project. Charbahar is a free port and being the closest Pakistani investors should have invested in that port, instead of hiding their wealth in Panama based off shore companies, or in Dubai real estate.

The 21-gun salute to President Rouhani, signing of various MoUs and exclusive meeting between the two heads of government, along with an unusual meeting with the Army Chief would go waste if the government allows certain foreign funded and inspired lobbies to downgrade or to undermine the ties between the two Muslim neighbours. When the Iranian President says that he equates Iran’s security with its own, we should take it seriously. When he says he regards Pakistan’s economic development as theirs, it should be given a careful ear.

In these rapidly changing regional alignments, enhanced relations with non-Arab Iran and Turkey remain our best option. It is in Pakistan’s natural interest to cultivate strategic, and economic ties with the said nations, as already exists a sufficient experience of coordinating trilateral policies since 1953, in strategic as well as economic spheres.

The writer is a Professor of Political Science at FC College University, Lahore.

Iran is a brotherly neighbour with whom Pakistan has close cultural, historic and religious ties. The Iranian president during his recent first visit shared Pakistan’s concerns in economic and strategic requirements, with a promise to cooperate.