India, Afghanistan and Iran signed a three-way deal on Monday, worth up to $500 million, to be invested in the Chabahar Port, close to the border of Pakistan. The battle for military and trade supremacy in the region continues to take place, however, with this deal, Iran’s neutrality in this quest becomes questionable. Chabahar is to India what Gwadar is to China, and influencing regional trade remains a key source of competition between the two countries.

Should we be surprised that this ‘historic’ deal has left Pakistan out in the cold? Our closeness to China and the rivalry with India dictates that India would want to counter any influence coming in from Gwadar, and Afghanistan, being a long-standing Indian partner, was likely to go along with this move regardless. What is likely to rankle the Pakistani government is Iran’s participation, however. But this was also unavoidable, partly because India has $500 million to spend on Chabahar, which we do not, and partly also because Iran’s overtures have not been adequately dealt with on this side of the border.

Before the sanctions were lifted, Pakistan had the golden opportunity of becoming an irreplaceable ally of Iran by simply completing the Iran-Pak gas pipeline, which, fearing US sanctions, it neglected to do, even after making endless promises of doing so. Trade is the first step towards cementing a solid alliance with a country. Apart from that, the Iran President’s visit did not go as well as planned, especially after Pakistan decided to unilaterally mention the issue of the RAW spy and discussions with President Rouhani in this regard.

With Pakistan squarely in the middle of the cooperating countries, there has to be some introspection on how to address this going forward. Since 2013, Pakistan has made numerous overtures to India, all of which have failed due to one reason or another. Afghanistan still sits on the fence in its relationship with us. Iran is the key here, and finishing the IP Pipeline and looking to make other trading deals with Iran will ensure that this exclusion is not permanent. The reaction from Irani media is indicative of the country’s rightful perception of its changing fortunes. Any country that attempts to stand by it and looking for mutual benefit at this point will be looked at as an ally in the future. 15 weeks saw 15 leaders from different countries visit Tehran. Nawaz Sharif last visited the country in 2014, when the sanctions were still in place. Surely it is time for another trip.