Raisi’s visit

Published April 22, 2024

IRANIAN President Ebrahim Raisi, who begins his three-day trip to Pakistan today, will be visiting the country during interesting times. While bilateral relations between both states are at a decent level, there is room for significant improvement. Moreover, Pakistan-Iran ties are closely monitored by some key Arab countries, as well as the US. Aside from the bilateral perspective, the visit is of significance as Iran and Israel have been trading blows over the past several days, while the Saudi foreign minister was in the country last week, bringing promises of significant investment to Pakistan. The kingdom’s de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman is also due here in the near future. Pakistan has often been caught in an uncomfortable position between its traditional ally Saudi Arabia, and its neighbour Iran, which is why visits by top Saudi and Iranian officials carry much weight, and require Pakistan to exercise deft diplomacy to maintain cordial ties with both Riyadh and Tehran. Though Saudi-Iranian ties have been improving after last year’s China-backed thaw, relations between them are by no means warm. Pakistan must be wary of these dynamics while calculating its foreign policy options with both sides.

Where bilateral issues are concerned, three areas are likely to dominate Mr Raisi’s visit: border security, trade and the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. A manifestly ugly episode was witnessed in January when both sides traded missile fire. The incident was triggered by the Iranians, who fired into Pakistani territory claiming to have hit anti-Iran ‘militants’. Pakistan struck back, hitting Iranian territory, but both sides demonstrated maturity by climbing down and restoring ties. The Iranian president’s visit offers an opportunity to review mutual security protocols to ensure that the border areas are not used by non-state actors to threaten either country’s security. As far as trade goes, there is great potential, though the threat of foreign sanctions has dampened these prospects. These obstacles can be overcome by expanding border markets and opting for barter trade. Meanwhile, the stalled pipeline issue is amongst the major irritants standing in the way of better ties. While Pakistan has indicated it is ready to complete the much-delayed project, American officials have said this may attract sanctions against Pakistan. The country should not cave in to threats, and let Washington know that it must honour a sovereign agreement.

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2024

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