The first day of the two-day visit to Islamabad by Iranian President has been promising. In keeping with the tone and tenor of the public statements coming from the government before the visit, the discussions have been open and fruitful. The government rolled out the red carpet and a willing Iranian delegation graced it. Now the government must make sure that this momentum is carried forward toward actual action.
It is reasonable to be concerned that despite wide ranging agreements over trade and cooperation, the government might fail to reap the rewards. To take one case as an example; the Iran-Pakistan pipeline – perhaps the most publically visible projects with Iran – languishes because of government lethargy. Iran has invested 2 billion, but Pakistan is yet to complete its section of the pipeline. Part of this failure is US pressure – which is greatly diminished now – but a significant factor is government oversight and incompetence.
If the government approaches the Iran agreement with the same industry and fervour as it has approached projects with China, then the cooperation can be greatly beneficial. It is a shame that bilateral trade between the two nations currently stands under half a billion dollars.
The proposal of opening two new border crossings and increasing the trade to a targeted 5 billion is a prudent one, as it would help boost development in Balochistan, which needs all the investment it can get. The advantages of energy import and linking Gawadar and Chabahar are self evident
The elephant in the room needs to be addressed though; Pakistan has been overwhelmingly supportive of Saudi Arabia at the expense of Iran and to a certain extent Iran has done the same with India. It needed to be addressed openly, and General Raheel Sharif’s meeting with Hasan Rouhani achieves that goal. Security cooperation, Afghanistan and the recent episode of an Indian naval officer’s arrest were brought up and they needed to be. The polarised security paradigm that dominated the past few decades is ending; all nations in the region have adopted a more prudent stance towards bilateral relations and Pakistan needs to follow suit.
If Nawaz Sharif seizes this opportunity to take relations in the right direction then he can safely claim another foreign policy victory – the CPEC being the first.