ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Iran established a joint working group of their interior ministries on Monday to deal with border-related matters.

The group was set up during a daylong visit of Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi.

The Iranian minister met Prime Minister Imran Khan, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Bajwa. The discussions, which took place in the backdrop of recent terrorism incidents in Balochistan, were dominated by border security.

Mr Vahidi’s visit followed close on the heels of ISI Chief Lt Gen Nadeem Anjum’s unannounced trip to Iran over the past few days.

Before his departure, the Iranian minister told IRNA that during his meeting with his Pakistani counterpart a joint working group of the interior ministries of Iran and Pakistan was formed. The members would remain in regular contact.

Iranian interior minister meets his Pakistani counterpart, PM, COAS

The joint working group has a broader mandate covering both security and non-security matters pertaining to the border with an aim to promote bilateral cooperation. It would deal with terror-related concerns, cross-border crimes, drug trafficking, issues related to border crossings, and construction and operation of border markets.

Mr Vahidi acknowledged that border security was one of the main topics discussed in the meetings. “Border security is important for both neighbours as certain elements want to create differences between the two friendly and brotherly countries of Iran and Pakistan and damage the bilateral ties,” he maintained.

Statements from PM Office and Inter-Services Public Relations also underscored border security.

While meeting Mr Vahidi, PM Khan called for “joint cooperation to address security issues”.

Gen Bajwa made a similar pitch in his meeting with the visiting Iranian minister.

“Terming Pak-Iran border as border of peace and friendship, COAS highlighted the need to put in collective efforts to deny any space or liberty of action to be exploited by miscreants along the Pak-Iran border,” the ISPR stated.

Minister for Interior Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, meanwhile, emphasised early completion of border fencing. According to the interior ministry, Mr Ahmed said territories of Iran and Pakistan could not be used against each other.

Border security has long remained a major cause of distrust in Pak-Iran ties. The two countries share a 909km-long border infested with criminal gangs, militants and drug traffickers, while there have been several violent incidents in which security forces were targeted.

Steps taken by the two countries, including institution of several border mechanisms, and border fencing have helped improve the situation. However, the incidents that happen from time to time keep straining the relations.

Mr Vahidi proposed making the bilateral border commission more active and streamlining the process of interaction and cooperation between the border guards of the two countries.

Border markets

The two sides in their meeting deliberated on operationalising of border markets.

Mr Vahidi said activation of border markets was important for the people of border regions and there was consensus between the two sides on this issue, but there were some infrastructure issues that needed to be urgently resolved.

“The prime minister also stressed early completion and operationalisation of the border sustenance markets for economic uplift of the people living on both sides of the border,” according to the PM Office.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2022

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