Earlier on Sunday, PM Imran Khan telephoned the newly-elected Iranian President, Ibrahim Raisi to congratulate him on his victory, and to discuss key regional issues along with how bilateral ties can be bolstered going forward. The timing of this phone call is important considering how the situation in the region is rapidly evolving, and it presents an opportunity for the two neighbours to navigate key regional challenges in a collaborative manner.
Even though Pakistan has always maintained cordial relations with Iran, the two countries have struggled to consolidate the bilateral relationship due to several external and internal factors. Of late however, both have been cooperating in mutual areas of interest such as security and trade. It was encouraging to see the two leaders touch upon the issue of enhancing economic ties because of the immense potential that remains untapped in that area. Currently, three border markets are being established at Gabd, Mund and Chedgi near the border with Iran with another three coming in the next phase. The opening up of these markets will certainly be of benefit to the citizens residing in the border regions as they will offer plenty of economic opportunities and sustenance.
Regional security dynamics have complicated bilateral ties in the recent past with both the countries imploring each other to do more to stamp out militants sheltering across the borders. But more recently, both Tehran and Islamabad have been working together to weed out militants in border areas and are currently fencing the 959-kilometre barrier—which is expected to reach completion by December this year.
It was also important that the two sides discussed the situation in Afghanistan. With western forces seeking a hasty exit, regional countries like Iran and Pakistan will be required to play a key role going forward. Iran has assumed a proactive role in the peace process and has cultivated relationships with the Taliban and other ethnic groups in Afghanistan—this can be leveraged moving forward to make progress towards a sustainable political agreement. Like Pakistan, Iran too is concerned about the spillover of violence and refugees flowing in across the borders as the security situation worsens. In light of these shared anxieties and interests, the time is just right for the two neighbours to strengthen bilateral ties and ensure that relations are better insulated from external pressures going forward.