JAVAD Zarif arrived in Islamabad on Sunday night.
JAVAD Zarif arrived in Islamabad on Sunday night.

ISLAMABAD: Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif arrived here on Sunday night on an official visit.

He is leading a high-level delegation that includes a large group of businessmen.

During his stay in Islamabad, the foreign minister is scheduled to meet Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership. He will also deliver a lecture on 70 years of Pak-Iran ties at the Institute of Strategic Studies.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted by Iranian media as having said that the Iranian minister would review issues of mutual interest with a special focus on expansion of economic and trade relations between the two neighbours.

The two countries are continuing to face challenges in ties despite the apparent improvement in them since Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s trip to Tehran late last year.

With Iran leasing out Chabahar Port to India and Pakistan Army announcing deployment of troops to Saudi Arabia, the mutual mistrust between the neighbours stands renewed.

Iran’s envoy to Pakistan Mehdi Honardoost last month said that establishment of bilateral banking ties was being delayed because of Islamabad’s ‘conservativeness’, while Islamabad-Pakistan gas pipeline project remains frozen.

Banking relations are considered crucial to expanding bilateral trade, which currently stands at $1.2 billion. The target is to increase it to $5bn per annum over the next few years, but it looks to be a difficult goal to achieve in the absence of regular banking channels.

Foreign Office spokesman Dr Muhammad Faisal expressed the hope that Mr Zarif’s trip would serve to improve economic and trade ties between the two countries.

Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2018