Monday, December 04, 2006

The mystery of Pak-Iran ties

December 03, 2006

By Dr Syed Farooq Hasnat

While talking to the Iranian media delegation, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said on November 6, that his country supports Iran to acquire nuclear technology and that Pakistan desires to develop its relations with Iran, still further. The Prime Minister elaborated that Pakistan was serious in the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project as it would strengthen trade between the two countries. Repeating the rhetoric in the same tone Foreign Minister Kasuri assured the Iranian delegation that Pakistan opposes the American use of force against the Iranian nuclear sites. On another occasion Mr Aziz said, “we think Iran should not proliferate. We’re against production of any nuclear weapons in the region. We think Iran does have the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under IAEA safeguards and guidelines.”

It goes without saying that neither the PM nor his Foreign Minister design Pakistan’s domestic or foreign policy. The fixation of the establishment with a single power has paralysed the policy makers to consider the future developments that would emerge after the international war against terrorism concludes or subsides. There is no blueprint for days when Pakistan will struggle for partners and reliance, as prevalent high dependency policy, projected and perused zealously, would whither away, as it would not find any partners.

When it comes to Pakistan-Iran relations there is much more than what actually is being said by the establishment or its proxies. It is this aspect which worries a common Pakistani who would like to see Pakistan as a sovereign and viable state, free to choose its friends and allies in a long term perspective. It is being felt that a traditional high priority that every government attached to its relations with Iran is no more there. The closeness of the two countries is reflected well by President Ayub Khan, who said while addressing the Iranian Senate in 1959 that, “Our two nations are no strangers to each other, our friendship is nothing new… Your classics are our classics. Your heroes are our heroes. It is not only through a common culture and religious heritage that our nations are linked together—historically we have been one nation in the past, geographically we have a common border and ethnologically we are of the same stock.”

The point of departure from what was said in the late 1950s comes when the present establishment does not posses enough sensitivity and sophistication to understand the realities of closeness between the two countries. The lowest ebb of relations between the two countries came when in mid-1990s the Pakistani establishment developed close ties with the Taliban and openly supported them in their battles against the Iran backed Northern Alliance. The darkest moment came when nine Iranian diplomats were killed by the Taliban in Mazar-e-Sharif in August 1998. Iranians accused Pakistan of not doing enough to stop the murder of their diplomats, although assurances ware given by the Pakistani government for the safety of the diplomats. A crises situation arose in the region when 200,000 Iranian troops massed on the Afghan border supported by amour, helicopters and other war related logistics were put in place. Although an armed clash was avoided, it left yet another blotch on the weakling Pakistan-Iran relations.

Before the Taliban became Pakistan’s obsession and consequentially an icon of the flawed policy, Pakistan maintained more than cordial relations with Iran. As mentioned above, Iran was regarded as closest to Pakistan’s history, culture, language, and heritage and security interests, along with Turkey. People of Pakistan still recall the 14 September 1965 visit of the Iranian Prime Minister to Rawalpindi, along with the Turkish Foreign Minister. He carried a message of support from the Iranian government, for Pakistan’s conflict with India.
Iran co-ordinated its policies with Pakistan, opposing the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan and Pakistan had a visible tilt towards Iran in its war against Iraq. Both the countries are partners in an economic regional organisation, Economic Co-operation Organisation (ECO), a forerunner of Regional Co-operation for Development (RCD), which was established in 1964 along with Turkey. Within the regional organisational framework both countries vow to continue to co-operate with each other on various matters of mutual interest, but there is hardly a substantial dividend on the ground. Both the countries have signed scores of MoUs and agreements but very little have come out in a concrete manner. Even the well-projected and well-advertised gas pipeline is under jeopardy. The trade volume between the two neighbouring countries remains disappointingly low and no serious parameters are set to correct this deficiency.

Despite of difference of policies between Pakistan and Iran on the Taliban issue, after 2002 both the countries struggled to maintain good workable relations. There are stronger extractions that do not allow these countries to harmonise with each other. There is hardly a high level contact between the two countries or a strong desire to improvise methods for closer ties. General Musharraf has not visited Iran since 1999 and so has any Iranian high official after President Mohammad Khatami’s visit in December 2002. There seems to be a detracting pull that is tearing both the countries apart from each other. A number of analysts are of the view that there is a powerful lobby in Islamabad which has succeeded in keeping Pakistan away from Iran and they believe that it is the same lobby which is creating hindrances in the gas pipeline and other co-operative measures between the two neighbours.
It is a wrong assumption to believe that Iran’s closer ties with India is a factor in distancing of relations between Iran and Pakistan. First, Pakistan itself for obvious reasons is going out of its way to normalise relations with India, even making adjustments in its principled position. Secondly, Indian stance in International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) against Iran’s nuclear programme has further proved that this premise is not correct. There are other reasons that become a hindrance between the two countries to normalise their relations.

The confined people of Pakistan are mere spectators in this big puzzle. The clueless masses just ponder that who allowed these precious links to wither away and what kind of self-interests are responsible for inflicting this damage to the Pakistani vital objectives and above all who has taken away all the warmth for the Iranian people.