Today's Paper | May 25, 2024

Updated 22 Apr, 2024 10:37pm

Pak-Iran trade volume ‘unacceptable’, to be increased to $10bn: Raisi

Iran and Pakistan have decided to increase the trade volume between the two countries to $10 billion, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Monday, adding that the existing volume was “not acceptable”.

Raisi — who is currently on a three-day visit to Pakistan — made the remarks during a joint press conference alongside Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif after the two held a meeting in Islamabad. The visit is the first of its kind by any head of state after the February 8 general elections.

“We are committed to strengthening relations at high levels. […] Economic and trade volume between Iran and Pakistan is not acceptable at all. We have decided as a first step to increase the trade volume between our two countries to $10bn,” he said.

At the outset of his address, the Iranian president “warmly thanked” PM Shehbaz and the Pakistani government for welcoming him and sent his greetings to the Pakistanis who “come to the streets […] and call for the freedom of Al Quds Al Sharif (Jerusalem)”.

He highlighted that there were “some common faith and religions which are inter-connected and no one can disconnect them”. The president also asserted that exchanging “potentials and capabilities” that existed in both countries would serve the interests of the two nations.

Speaking about the meeting with PM Shehbaz, Raisi said the two had decided to promote bilateral relations at “political, economic, trade [and] cultural” levels.

Noting that there were a “number of common positions and stands” between Iran and Pakistan on terrorism, Raisi said: “Both countries are determined to fight against terrorism, organised crime, narcotics and different forms and manifestations of insecurity which endanger our two countries and at the same time the region.

“Probably, you can find some individuals who do not favour expansion and promotion of good bilateral relations between Iran and Pakistan but who cares? It is not important.”

Recalling his and PM Shehbaz’s visit to the Mand-Pishin border market for its inauguration, Raisi noted “some steps had been taken” but termed them “not sufficient” and stressed the need for further action in this regard.

“The great people of Iran changed the illegal and unfair sanctions imposed against my country into an opportunity […] Today, Iran is a great instance of development and technology and we register our readiness in order to share and transfer our expertise and our knowledge in this regard with the great people of Pakistan,” the president said.

Meanwhile, PM Shehbaz called for strengthening Pak-Iran ties despite challenges: “We have to keep this relationship strong despite the challenges we both face.”

The premier said that the two leaders had detailed discussions on “religious, cultural, diplomatic, investment and security matters” during their meeting.

The prime minister praised Raisi as an “ocean of political intelligence and wisdom”, adding that Iran would progress further under his leadership.

Highlighting that it was time to make the relationship between the two countries “stable”, PM Shehbaz expressed hope that the shared borders could be transformed into areas “where business, progress and prosperity is seen everywhere”.

He emphasised that today was an opportunity to “turn this friendship […] into a sea of development and prosperity”.

The prime minister praised Raisi for Iran’s “strong stance” on the ongoing Israeli offensive on Gaza, which has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians and has entered its seventh month. “The [United Nations] Security Council resolution is being shredded to bits and the entire world is silent,” he said.

PM Shehbaz also highlighted the plight of those in Indian-occupied Kashmir, appreciating the Iranian president for voicing support for them.

The premier thanked Raisi for visiting his “second home” and said that the ties between both countries would further strengthen as a result of his visit.

In their meeting, PM Shehbaz and Raisi agreed on joint efforts to eradicate terrorism, state-run Radio Pakistan reported. The two leaders also held discussions to increase trade and communication links between their countries, the report added.

PM Shehbaz was quoted as saying that the entire nation welcomed the Iranian president’s visit while Raisi expressed gratitude to the premier for the warm welcome accorded to him, Radio Pakistan said.

Raisi later met President Asif Ali Zardari at the President House.

“We expressed satisfaction at the trajectory of bilateral ties and agreed to further strengthen our dialogue and cooperation to reinforce existing ties,” President Zardari was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the Presidency’s X account.

He further said that Pakistan and Iran were bound by a common religion, history and culture.

8 pacts, MoUs for cooperation signed

Separately, Iran and Pakistan signed eight agreements and Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) for cooperation in various fields, including security, judicial assistance in civil matters, and veterinary and animal health, Radio Pakistan reported.

The two countries signed an MoU for the establishment of a special economic zone (SEZ) while another was signed for film exchanges and cooperation between the information ministry and Iran’s Organisation of Cinema and Audiovisual Affairs.

MoUs were also signed between the ministry of overseas Pakistanis and Iran’s labour ministry as well as between the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority and its Iranian counterpart, Radio Pakistan added.

The signing ceremony for the pacts, which also included an MoU on legal cooperation, was witnessed by Raisi and PM Shehbaz.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar called on the Iranian president in Islamabad, where they discussed bilateral relations as well as regional and global developments, Radio Pakistan reported.

Raisi and Dar “emphasised the importance of enhanced efforts to further consolidate bilateral relations in diverse fields”, the report said, adding that the two leaders also “affirmed commitment to peace and constructive dialogue for resolving regional challenges”.

The Foreign Office (FO) had stated earlier that Raisi would visit Lahore and Karachi and meet with the provincial leadership.

Pakistan, Iran agree to ban terrorist organisations

The two countries also decided to ban terrorist organisations in their respective countries, agreeing on a joint plan of action to deal with the menace of terrorism by improving mutual support and exchange of intelligence information.

In a meeting between Minister for Interior Mohsin Naqvi and his Iranian counterpart Dr Ahmad Vahidi, the pair recognised terrorism as a common problem and decided to sign a security agreement.

The two also decided to provide all possible facilities to Pakistani pilgrims.

The two sides observed that joint initiatives would help ensure the provision of the best facilities to the pilgrims.

Both also agreed to waive the fines imposed on their nationals imprisoned in each other’s country.

Naqvi said that he wanted that the Pakistani prisoners in Iran should return to their homeland as soon as possible.

The two countries also decided to increase cooperation in border management, including steps for preventing smuggling and drug trafficking.

Naqvi said that smuggling was a cause of economic loss for both countries and its prevention through border management would help promote mutual trade.

The two sides also agreed to activate the border markets.

The Iranian interior minister praised Pakistan’s “excellent job” of border fencing.

Raisi’s arrival

Raisi arrived at the Islamabad airport earlier today and was received by Housing Minister Mian Riaz Hussain Pirzada and Pakistan’s Ambassador to Iran Mudassir Tipu.

“The Iranian president is accompanied by his spouse and a high-level delegation comprising the foreign minister and other members of the cabinet and senior officials,” the FO said.

Iran’s news agency IRNA said that Raisi’s visit was taking place at the invitation of President Zardari.

“President Raisi will visit several Pakistani cities to meet with a number of ulema, elites and business persons there. A visit to Lahore, the cultural heart of Pakistan, is also among the president’s plans,” it said.

Shortly after reaching the country, the Iranian president arrived at the Prime Minister’s House where he was received by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. He was presented with a guard of honour and anthems of both countries were also played on the occasion.

Later, the two also planted a tree in a lawn at the Prime Minister’s House to mark International Earth Day.

Significance of visit

Raisi’s visit to Pakistan had been in doubt as Middle East tensions rose after Iran launched an unprecedented missile and drone attack on Israel a week ago in retaliation for an airstrike on the Iranian consular building in Damascus earlier this month. Then, on Friday, central Iran received what was presumed to be an Israeli attack.

Tehran has played down the apparent Israeli attack and indicated it had no plans for retaliation, a response that appeared gauged towards keeping the conflict in Gaza from expan­ding to a regionwide conflict.

Pakistan has called on all parties in the Middle East to “exercise utmost restraint and move towards de-escalation”.

Raisi’s visit is also significant as Pakistan and Iran seek to mend ties after tit-for-tat missile strikes in January. The cross-border strikes stoked regional tensions already inflamed by Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.

Tehran carried out the strikes against an anti-Iran group in Pakistan the same week it targeted Iraq and Syria. Pakistan responded with a raid on “militant targets” in Sistan-Balochistan province. Both countries have accused each other of sheltering militants in the past.

Pakistan is also counting on a joint gas project with Iran to solve a long-running power crisis that has sapped its economic growth.

A $7.5 billion Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline intended to feed Pakistani power plants was inaugurated with great fanfare in March 2013. However, the project immediately stagnated following international sanctions on Iran.

Tehran has built its own section of the 1,800-kilometre pipeline, which should eventually link its South Pars gas fields to Nawabshah.

In February, the outgoing caretaker government in Pakistan approved the construction of an 80km section of the pipeline, primarily to avoid the payment of billions of dollars in penalties to Iran due to years of delays.

Washington has warned that Pakistan could face US sanctions, saying it does not support the pipeline going forward.

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