ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday paid his respects at the shrine of Imam Raza during a brief stopover in Mashhad at the start of his two-day maiden visit to Iran and highlighted the importance Islamabad attached to expanding bilateral relations with Tehran in diverse fields.
PM Khan, during his meetings with the leadership of the Khorasan-i-Razavi province, said maintaining good relations with neighbours was the cornerstone of his government policy.
The premier, who is accompanied by two ministers, an adviser and three special assistants holding portfolios of human rights, maritime affairs, commerce, overseas Pakistanis, health services, and petroleum, will call on Sayyid Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Islamic revolution, besides holding detailed discussion with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other top government functionaries on Monday.
Mr Khan is visiting Iran on the invitation of President Rouhani.
Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari, Minister for Maritime Affairs Syed Ali Haider Zaidi, Adviser to PM on Commerce Abdul Razak Dawood, Special Assistant to PM on Overseas Pakistanis Syed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari, Special Assistant to PM on National Health Services Dr Zafarullah Mirza and Special Assistant to PM on Petroleum Nadeem Baber are part of the Pakistani delegation.
On his arrival at Mashhad International Airport, the prime minister was received by Khorasan-i-Razavi Governor General Ali Reza Razm Hussaini.
During his stay in Mashhad before proceeding to Tehran, the PM visited the mausoleum of Imam Raza, prayed for the country’s prosperity and offered Nawafil. He also held a meeting with Hojatuleslam val Muslimeen Ahmad Marvi, the custodian of the holy shrine, besides visiting the Museum of Holy Quran situated on the premises of the shrine.
The PM thanked the Khorasan government for facilitating the pilgrimage of a hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis during Muharram and Arbaeen. He said his government was taking a number of steps to facilitate the travel of Zairieen to Iran.
During his meeting with the custodian of the holy shrine, Mr Khan expressed happiness on starting his visit from Mashhad. He said the guiding light for his government were the principles on which the Holy Prophet (PBUH) founded the city-state of Medina.
PM Khan said the people of Pakistan would never forget that Iran always stood with their country in difficult times and underlined Pakistan’s desire for having closer relations with Iran.
Hojjatuleslam Valmoslemin Ahmed Marvi also highlighted the importance of the unity of Muslim Ummah.
Later, the prime minister with his delegation flew to Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport where they were received by Health Minister or Iran Dr Saeed Namaki.
Mr Khan was initially scheduled to visit Iran in January, but it was reportedly postponed at the eleventh hour due to unexplained reasons though the Foreign Office did issue a statement highlighting that Pak-Iran relations were “marked by close historic and cultural linkages and strong people-to-people exchanges”.
The relations have, however, had a bad patch as well due to security issues along the border. There was a brief bonhomie in ties after Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Bajwa’s unprecedented visit to Iran in November 2017.
According to diplomatic sources, border security issues will be on top of PM Khan’s agenda in Tehran, especially the April 18 terror attack in Ormara in which 14 armed forces personnel were killed. Following the massacre, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) lodged a strong protest with Iran over its inaction against the terror groups believed to be involved in the Ormara killings.
In a letter written to the Iranian embassy on Friday, the MoFA stated: “Killing of 14 innocent Pakistanis by terrorist groups based in Iran is a very serious incident that Pakistan protests strongly.”
Media reports said 15-20 terrorists camouflaged themselves in Frontier Corps uniform, barricaded the road and stopped three to four buses travelling from Ormara to Gwadar on the coastal highway at Buzi Top before dawn on April 18.
On the identification of the passengers, 14 personnel belonging to the armed forces were shot dead, including Navy, Air Force and Coast Guards personnel.
According to the ministry’s letter, “BRAS” — an alliance of three terrorist organisations — claimed responsibility for the terrorist act. The government said the terrorists had arrived from the border region and returned to the area following the incident.
Among other important issues, including border security, the Pak-Iran Gas Pipeline project is also expected to come under discussion between the two sides.
‘Visit to help build trust’
Meanwhile, in an interview with IRNA, the chairman of Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, said PM Khan’s visit to Iran would reinforce confidence and trust between Tehran and Islamabad.
The senator said the visit would also build strong political ties between the leaders of Iran and Pakistan. He said as chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs he welcomed the PM’s move to visit Iran which was not only Pakistan’s neighbour but also a close friend having mutual interests.
He said the visit gave a very positive message from Pakistan, its government, its people and parliament to the people of Iran. He added that Pakistan rejected all kinds of negative propaganda against Iran.
“Pakistan has very strong strategic ties with Iran and we want to further strengthen those at the political, economic and security level,” the senator said, adding that both countries had common enemy in terms of terrorism and extremism. “We will combat that enemy together because it is in the interest of both Iran and Pakistan,” he said.
Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2019