The recent foot-dragging and obliqueness displayed by Pakistani banks in following up the State Bank of Pakistans’ Banking and Payment Arrangement (BPA) with Iran to promote bilateral trade has been dismal. It highlights Pakistan’s’ onerous tendency to dither and dissemble in its dwindling bilateral liaison with Iran. 

READ MORE: Going not-so green

Similar dithering is seen in the faltering tourism ties between the two countries where due to fears of insurgents and terrorists the visa process for visitors from both the sides is challenging despite the burgeoning potential for tourism. The inert Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline project suffers the same dismissal while International sanctions are used as an excuse for suspension on work on our end. On its end, Iran repeatedly calls for increasing cooperation between the two ports of Gwadar and Chabahar, as well as participating in CPEC. 

The history of the Pak-Iran relationship is a mosaic of mistrust and resentment fomented largely by clashing foreign policies in the global arena. It soured interminably with the onset of the 1990’s war in Afghanistan with Iran extending support to the Northern Alliance and Pakistan backing the Taliban. Since the 1990s with Saudi-funded groups gaining representation in Pakistan and the resulting sectarian violence, the drift towards Saudi Arabia and its ensuing fundamentalism became the defining factor in Pak-Iran foreign policy from the 1980s through to the American-led “War on Terror”. Over the years Pakistan chose to forgo an amenable link with its neighbor to the south, pandering to the Saudi and US foreign agenda. Despite feeble attempts at reconciliation the climate of mutual mistrust and limited engagement has remained the accepted equilibrium in Pak-Iran relations. Pakistan fears a growing Iranian-Indian alliance while a porous border permeating insurgents and militants culminates in instances of cross-border hostilities. 

In the face of an aggressive US meting out punitive measures to coerce allegiance and antagonistic neighbours on either side echoing the same rhetoric, Pakistan’s geostrategic diplomacy needs to be acutely reconfigured to ensure its future economic welfare. 

While the Defence Minister can underscore historical ties with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, the fact remains that harboring covert political and military alliances with KSA do not necessarily aid our national socio-economic interests where nurturing bilateral ties with Iran can be integral to them in the long run. The leadership should categorically bar hegemonic powers from driving our foreign policy agenda. Pakistan and Iran can mutually benefit from developing favourable ties where small scale regional cooperation in CPEC, tourism, aviation, ports and shipping, science and technology and trade in ommodities would help foster a promising bilateral relationship.