Iran-Pakistan Relations: Changing from Tactical to Strategic Ties

A meeting between the Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan and the Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei (Credits: Khamenei.ir, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 15 Issue 8
Author: Abed Akbari

Iran and Pakistan shares borders and strategic interests in Eurasia. Both Tehran and Islamabad are interested in strengthening their cooperation in political, economic, social and cultural issues and overcoming their differences to exploit several opportunities, such as the partnership with China and other regional actors.

Sharing a border of over 900 kilometres, Iran and Pakistan have an array of mutual interests and concerns. The two countries have a myriad of cultural and religious commonalities that go beyond the borders of two neighbouring countries and can act as the backdrop to further rapprochement and cooperation on issues such as corridors of communication, relations with China, asylum-seekers, and fighting extremism, drugs, and human and weapon trafficking. To these, one must add the regular military drills conducted annually by their armies. Some of the areas where the level of relations can be promoted are examined next.

Corridors of Communication and Relations with China

Central Asian countries and Afghanistan use their southern corridors to access free seas. To do so, they need to go through Iran and Pakistan. Development projects in Gwadar and Chabahar are being pursued to start cooperation between the two ports.[1] In recent years, both countries have made efforts to establish a connection between these with roads and railroads. This infrastructure has been invested in by China and is being constructed in Gwadar under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. Likewise, once the 25-year plan between Iran and China is implemented to develop Chabahar, this can pave the way for cooperation between the two countries in transit and other related projects.[2]

Fighting Extremism

With the current situation in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan – who have long borders with Afghanistan – harbour mutual concerns about the escalation of insecurity and infiltration of extremist groups in their countries.[3] This requires the setup of joint mechanisms to prevent the said groups from recruiting forces. Over the past years, constant security cooperation along the border and the exchange of information has allowed the two countries to cut anti-system groups short in their tracks.

Asylum-Seekers

The situation in Afghanistan has meant a torrent of refugees flowing into both countries. Iran and Pakistan have always accepted the most number of refugees over the past years when Afghanistan has been engaged in war and insecurity. Therefore, measures must be taken to transfer experiences and find solutions to stop the flow of immigration.[4]

Fighting Drug, Human and Weapon Trafficking

The security and economic situation in Afghanistan has created livelihood difficulties for large parts of its population.[5] This can create common issues for both Iran and Pakistan. Insufficient control over the use of weapons in society by the central government is likely to increase trafficking along Iranian and Pakistani borders for financial reasons. Human trafficking to these two countries will also increase due to asylum-seekers escaping Afghanistan. At the same time, as in previous years, both countries will be victims of huge drug trafficking from Afghanistan.[6]

Trading Landscape Between the Two Countries

According to Iran’s economic vision document published by the World Bank in October 2021, the GDP for this country has spiked from -6% in 2018 to 3.1% in 2021.[7] The document also forecasts that Iran will experience economic growth in a range of sectors following the increased speed and volume of vaccination in the country coupled with rising oil sales after a two-year downturn. The oil sector has grown by 11.2% and industry by 7.1%. Over the past year, Pakistan has ranked in ninth place for Iranian exports, indicating a growth of 22% as compared to the first half of 2020. Overall, according to Iranian customs, Iranian exports to Pakistan in the first half of the current year have amounted to 321 million dollars, and imports from Pakistan have reached 110 million dollars.

Considering the positive prospects of the Iranian economy, there is great hope for improved trade with Pakistan once the pressures of Covid-19 and U.S. sanctions have subsided, alongside plans by Iran to increase such trade with this country. Some of these include the Chabahar-Gwadar railroad, Bandar Abbas-Chabahar-Gwadar-Karachi and vice-versa sea route, and the Karachi-Quetta-Zahedan-Chabahar and the Karachi-Quetta-Zahedan-Mashhad air routes. Also, there are no obstructions to the import of Pakistani goods, such as rice, sugar, and textiles, as large volumes of rice and clothing made in Pakistan are currently imported into the Iranian market. The biggest hurdle on the path of trade between the two countries is the US sanctions and banking restrictions. To overcome this, Iran has proposed to set up bartering rooms.

Last but not least, if the mutual concerns are set aside, it will become apparent that trading opportunities between the two countries are immense and deeply rooted. What little differences remain are only due to disparities in the actions taken and are not ingrained to disrupt the good neighbourliness between them. Both countries share profound identity features, and both have chosen to be Islamic republics based on Islam and democracy. As the U.S. becomes closer to India, increased trade between Iran and Pakistan makes them more determined to work with China. Existing projects, together with the ITI rail project (ECO Rail Transport Corridors) which runs from Istanbul to Tehran and from Tehran to Islamabad, can be suitable ground for cooperation to attract Chinese investment to the region and create new transit opportunities for the transfer of Chinese and Pakistani goods to Turkey and Europe through Iran.

All of the abovementioned set the path for both sides to consider the ways in which they can cooperate strategically. The elites of both countries must be the stimulus and encouragement behind this crucial undertaking.

Source

[1] Silvia Boltuc (2021) Geopolitica del porto iraniano di Chabahar, Geopolitical Report Vol.6, ASRIE Analytica. Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/2021/05/14/iran-pakistan-cooperazione/.

[2] Fatima Raza (2019) Prospects for Pakistan-China-Iran Trilateral Cooperation: Opportunities and Challenges, Strategic Studies Vol.39(3), pp. 37-52.

[3] Silvia Boltuc (2021) Cooperazione transfrontaliera Iran-Pakistan in ottica geopolitica euroasiatica, Geopolitical Report Vol.7(3), SpecialEurasia. Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/2021/05/14/iran-pakistan-cooperazione/.

[4] Asad Hashim (2021) Thousands of Afghans seeking refuge in regional countries: UNHCR, Al Jazeera. Retrieved from: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/9/23/afghanistan-refugees-pakistan-iran-unhcr; Fatameh Aman (2021) The Afghan refugee crisis: What does it mean for Iran?, Middle East Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.mei.edu/publications/afghan-refugee-crisis-what-does-it-mean-iran; Humanitarian needs in Iran rise as 300,000 Afghans arrive since Taliban takeover (2021) Norwegian Refugee Council. Retrieved from: https://www.nrc.no/news/2021/november/humanitarian-needs-in-iran-rise-as-300000-afghans-arrive-since-taliban-takeover/#:~:text=Facts%20and%20figures&text=Nearly%205%20million%20Afghans%20remain,780%2C000%20are%20recognised%20as%20refugees.

[5] Silvia Boltuc (2021) Afghanistan today: between humanitarian crisis and the Taliban rule. Interview with H.E. Khaled Ahmad Zekriya, Ambassador of Afghanistan in Italy, SpecialEurasia. Retrieved from: https://www.specialeurasia.com/2021/11/08/afghanistan-humanitarian-crisis-taliban-interview-khaled-zekriya/.

[6] Human smuggling and trafficking in Pakistan (2020) National Initiative Against Organised Crime (NIOC) Pakistan. Retrieved from: https://globalinitiative.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Human-Smuggling-and-Trafficking.pdf; John J. Lee (2021) Human Trafficking in Iran, Borgen Magazine. Retrieved from: https://www.borgenmagazine.com/human-trafficking-in-iran/.

[7] Iran’s Economic Update – October 2021 (2021), World Bank. Retrieved from: https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/iran/publication/economic-update-october-2021#:~:text=Outlook,annum%20in%20the%20medium%20term.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpecialEurasia. Abed  Akbari is the Managing Director of Tehran International Studies & Research Institute. For more information about Iran, it is possible to visit the following section Iran.