Reportedly an improvised explosive device (IED) hit a vehicle of the military personnel in Buleda (district Kech) Balochistan near the Pak-Iran border on May 8, killing one major of the Pakistan Army and five soldiers who were returning to their base after conducting a routine patrol in the area. The Balochistan Liberation Army, which has bases on Iranian soil, claimed responsibility for the attack.
It was in the backdrop of this regrettable incident that COAS General Bajwa called his Iranian counterpart Major General Bagheri on Tuesday to express his concern over the attack by the militants. According to a press release of ISPR both of them resolved to enhance security measures on either side of the border. General Bajwa rightly told the Iranian General that Pakistan had started fencing the border but would require mutual cooperation to ensure border security and stem smuggling activity which was also used by terrorists and narcotics traffickers to cover their movement.
Unfortunately, this is not for the first time that the militants based in Iran have carried out attack against the security personnel. A similar attack was carried out by the militants on 18 April 2019 at Buzi top on the coastal highway when militants wearing uniforms barricaded the road, stopped 3-4 buses travelling from Ormara to Gawadar and killed 14 people including 11 personnel of Navy, Air Force and Coast Guards. Pakistan lodged a very strong protest with the Iranian government saying that the intelligence reports regarding the bases of the militants in Iran and their activities were shared with the Iranian authorities.
It was in the backdrop of the tense situation created by the Ormara incident that Prime Minister Imran Khan immediately paid a two-day visit to Iran and met its leaders. As a result of the mutual interaction, the two countries agreed to set up a Joint Rapid Reaction Force to fight terrorism and guard the common border between the two countries and vowed not to allow their territories to be used for terrorist activities. Relations between the two countries were under great stress following terrorist attacks on both sides of the frontier. It was then hoped that setting up of the joint force and fencing of the Pak-Iran border by Pakistan would help in preventing the recurrence of such incidents. In the context of bilateral relations, the two sides also resolved to enhance cooperation in a number of social and cultural domains besides expanding economic relations. But unfortunately militants continue to attack.
It would perhaps be pertinent to have an insight into the history of relations between the two countries. In 1947, Iran was the first country to recognise Pakistan after its independence. The two countries were members of the Baghdad Pact known as CENTO which was an alliance against USSR during the cold war era. Along with Turkey, they formed RCD, which later became a larger group known as the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO). The warmth and depth of ties between the two countries can be judged from the fact that during the 1965 war with India, Iran sided with Pakistan. It also helped in controlling the insurgency in Balochistan.
However, the events of 1979, including the invasion of Afghanistan by Soviet Union and the revolution in Iran, drastically changed the situation in the region as well as within Pakistan, which also affected relations between the two countries. Iran though opposed to the soviet invasion and joined hands with Pakistan in supporting the Afghan Jihad, always looked askance at the growing relationship of Saudi Arabia and US with Pakistan.
The consequent imposition of sanctions on Iran by the UN on the nuclear issue also limited the scope of trade relations between the two countries. The Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline also became a casualty of tensions between US and Iran and India withdrew from the project under American pressure. However, it is pertinent to mention that successive regimes in Pakistan, except General Zia have always strived for cordial and brotherly relations with Iran.
Pakistan rightly refused to be drawn into conflict in Yemen, the sectarian crisis in Bahrain and the diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia and Iran after the execution of Shia religious scholar by Saudi Arabia. It rather preferred to play a mediatory role to lessen the tensions. This stance stemmed from the considered view that It was in Pakistan’s utmost interest to remain neutral in any conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Prime Minister Imran Khan also played a mediatory role in defusing tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia which had been brewing since the drone attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia on September 20, 2019. He paid visits to Iran and Saudi Arabia in October. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia welcomed the initiative. The Prime Minister himself acknowledged his mediatory role when he visited New York to attend the UN General Assembly session. It was probably in recognition of Pakistan’s importance in the region and the efforts that Prime Minister Imran Khan was making for regional peace that even President Trump asked him to help defuse tensions with Iran.
Having cordial relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran is imperative for Pakistan to avoid any adverse backlash on the domestic front as well as for boosting the efforts for sustained economic development which undoubtedly depends on the prevalence of peace within the country as well as in the region.
Iran is our immediate neighbour and has been a close ally. It can also help Pakistan in diluting the energy crisis by providing oil, electricity and gas through the IP gas pipeline in case it becomes feasible to construct. We also need the cooperation of Iran in bringing peace and security to the region, particularly in resolving the conflict in Afghanistan and the elimination of the scourge of terrorism for the collective benefit of the countries of the region. The economic and political interests of both Iran and Pakistan are inextricably linked and their geographical proximity and common religion provide a solid base for protecting and strengthening those interests. They both need each other to realise that objective.
Pakistan, under the stewardship of Prime Minister Imran Khan, is all-out for recalibrating cordial relations with its neighbouring countries, particularly Iran and playing a role of a facilitator in resolving regional conflicts. It is hoped that Iran in the interest of the required bonhomie, would see to it that the militants are no more able to use its soil for attacks against Pakistan.
Malik Muhammad Ashraf
The writer is a freelance email@example.com