ISLAMABAD: Addressing tensions surrounding Chabahar, Mehdi Honerdoost, the Iranian ambassador to Pakistan, on Friday said the Chabahar port agreement between Iran, India and Afghanistan is “not finished” and “not limited to these three countries”.
Speaking on Pakistan-Iran relations at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad (ISSI), the envoy revealed that the offer to cooperate had first been extended to Pakistan and then China, implying neither had expressed interest.
Ahmed Saffee, a research fellow at the ISSI, quoted the Iranian envoy as saying that the deal is still on the table for both Pakistan and China, assuring that “Chabahar is not a rival to Gwadar”.
The ambassador added that both are sister ports, and Chabahar port authorities would extend cooperation to Gwadar.
“The deal is not finished. We are waiting for new members. Pakistan, our brotherly neighbours and China, a great partner of the Iranians and a good friend of Pakistan, are both welcome,” said the envoy.
“India was a good friend during the sanctions, the only country to import oil from us during sanctions.”
‘Ready for rapprochement’
“We are ready for any rapprochement between regional countries which directly impact the interests of the people of our countries. Trade and business is business, and politics is politics. We should separate them.”
Honerdoost reiterated that trade and business is a key element to bringing peace to the region, and that Iran has friendly trade relations with its neighbours and regional powers, including Turkey, China and Russia.
According to Saffee, the envoy called for cooperation between Pakistani and Iranian universities to increase people-to-people contact, especially between the youth, a major demographic in both countries.
“Iran has undergone the burden of sanctions and international isolation. After the P5+1 deal, Iran is invigorated.”
Three-way accord on Chabahar
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Monday signed a three-way transit agreement on Iran's southern port of Chabahar.
India said it will invest up to $500 million in a deal to develop a strategic port in Iran and both countries planned a number of projects they say are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The development of the port at Chabahar expands a trade route for the land-locked countries of central Asia that bypasses Pakistan, and represents a missed opportunity for Pakistan as post-sanctions Iran opens up.
The deal and plans were announced during a visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the first such trip in more than a decade.
‘How could Iran give space to Taliban?’
Honerdoost denied former Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour came to Pakistan from Iran, saying the Afghan Taliban is an enemy of Iran as well.
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Mansour was coming to Pakistan after visiting family in Iran.
Iran, however, has repeatedly denied that Mansour entered Pakistan from the Islamic republic.
“Iran would never allow any spy agency or terrorist group to use Iranian territory against Pakistan,” Honderdoost said.
“Iran's territory was never used and will not be used for terror and against Pakistan,” Saffee quoted the ambassador as saying.
“A number of Iranian diplomats were killed by [the Taliban], then how could Iran give space to Taliban leader Mullah Mansour?”
The Iranian envoy also said there was 'misreporting' on the issue of Indian spy Kulbushan Jadhav's arrest and his links with Chabahar, referring to the Indian spy captured in Balochistan, whose suspected base of operations was the Iranian port.
The envoy expressed disappointment that official-level meetings ─ which had gone 'very well' during Rouhani's visit to Pakistan, the first by an Iranian leader in 14 years ─ had been overshadowed by 'vested interests'.
In March, Iranian news agencies had slammed “certain elements in Pakistan” for spreading “undignified and offensive” remarks in the media attributed to Iranian President Rouhani regarding Jadhav’s arrest.