OVER the past few decades, the Iran-Pakistan relationship has seen its ups and downs. While there has been much talk of ‘warm, brotherly’ ties, suspicions and certain irritants have prevented the bilateral relationship from maturing beyond niceties.
However, with regular engagements between officials from both sides, as well as the implementation of practical steps that can help alleviate concerns in both Tehran and Islamabad, bilateral ties can improve significantly.
In this regard, the recent visit of Aaqai Ali Awsat Hashemi, the governor of the Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchestan, which borders Balochistan, to Pakistan, is a welcome development.
Heading a delegation, Mr Hashemi visited Quetta and Karachi as both sides discussed a number of security and economic issues.
It is significant that the official said that “non-state actors” were responsible for attacks on Iranian border posts. While smuggling, human trafficking and the illicit drug trade are major areas of concern, it is militancy in the border areas that has proven to be one of the major irritants souring bilateral relations.
Militancy is a problem on both sides of the border. Last year, Iranian border guards were kidnapped and allegedly brought to Pakistani territory. Iranian officials were then quoted as saying that they would pursue militants inside Pakistan, which certainly didn’t help matters.
The death of a Pakistani FC trooper reportedly from cross-border shelling further vitiated the atmosphere. However, the engagements of officials from both sides indicate there is a will to resolve these contentious issues.
Since terrorism is a common problem, Islamabad and Tehran must cooperate in order to neutralise insurgents working to destabilise both countries’ territory. As Pakistan carries out its crackdown against militancy, the ‘non-state actors’ pinpointed by the Iranians also need to be dealt with.
Not only do such elements destabilise Pakistan internally, they also make things difficult for the country by carrying out cross-border forays. Regular meetings between security officials can coordinate action against terrorists, drug smugglers as well as other criminals operating in the border area.
It is hoped such official encounters continue and that both capitals work constructively to build on the relationship.
Other than security concerns, trade also needs to be focused on, as was highlighted in the recent meetings, while progress on the Iran-Pakistan pipeline would give bilateral relations an additional boost. And the proposed visit to Pakistan by President Hassan Rouhani, as indicated by the Sistan governor, would go a long way in improving ties.
Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2015