If the Prime Minister’s and the Chief Of Army Staff’s visit to the kingdom to witness the controversial “North Thunder” military exercises were an unbalancing of the Iran-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia equation, the upcoming visit of the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is a shot at restoring equilibrium. Thankfully, the government seems cognizant of that; all the pre-visit talk is aimed allaying Iranian fear over a military alliance against them and talking up the potential of strengthened economic ties. While the regional political angle to the relationship will always be important, this visit – post sanctions, and post US withdrawal from Afghanistan– is one of a kind. The government must bring out the charm offensive it usually reserves for the Chinese and the Saudis.

The economic aspect of this should be obvious. Iran can be a vital source of natural gas and energy production if the stalled projects such as the Iran-Pakistan pipeline can be restarted. With the CPEC developing Gwadar in Balochistan, a direct supply of resources from the province’s immediate neighbour will be a boost to growth. Similarly, bilateral trade – with currently stands at a few hundred million dollars – has vast potential to grow. Newly opened Iranian markets are already attracting investors, and Pakistan – which shares many cultural and religious tenants with Iran – is in prime position to receive mutual benefit if the volume of trade goes up. The Iranian President is bringing a large economic contingent, so it seems he is keen on this too. The government must peruse these goals unabashedly, especially since the Kingdom itself has advocated diversified relations by increasing cooperation with India.

What the government might feel abashed to do is increase defense and security cooperation with Iran. These exchanges have been a strict no-no in the Saudi and US book, and despite the lifting of sanctions, they still are to an extent. Yet Pakistan must look at this objectively and without bias towards past agreements. It is not Saudi Arabia, nor the U.S that can play a meaningful role in stabilising Afghanistan, Iran – which shares a border with it – can. Similarly the free and unchecked movement of people across Pakistan’s western borders can only be curbed with Iranian cooperation. These are real, tangible goals. Pakistan should not dismiss them over misplaced sense of allegiance.

Finally, the government should also realise that this is not a either/or relationship, and that it doesn’t have to passively suffer the consequences of tilting one way or the other. A strong relationship with both countries can allow the Pakistani government to play a mediating role to diffuse the tension between the two Middle Eastern nations. It has the opportunity, it must take it.