Pak-Iran Relations: The Changing Scenario
“Neither brothers nor neighbours can be changed, Iran is both to Pakistan. If not an enemy, America is not a friend either who keeps her interest supreme; America is an arrogant capitalist country where every relationship is equated with money.” Raja Mujtaba
By Dr Raja Muhammad Khan
In this highly globalized and interdependent world, at global level, there is no country, which is self-reliant. The interconnectivity and communication revolution has reduced the distances and boosted the interdependence virtually in all fields, viz; economic, political and military. The concept of interdependence has made even the super of the time; United States, dependent on other countries of the world. Today, every country needs help and assistance from others to meets its necessities in a relationship of mutuality. Commercially, countries fulfil their needs through the universally accepted norms of imports and exports; counties with muscles want to capture all no matter at what human cost.
Like most of other countries, Pakistan too is an energy deficient country. It fulfils its energy needs through imports of energy resources, mainly in the form of oil from a number of oil exporting states, Islamic Republic of Iran, being one of those. Besides, oil, in 1990s, the Islamic Republic has agreed to export 750 million cubic feet of natural gas per day (mmcfd) with a provision to increase the volume to 1 billion cubic feet per day to Pakistan. Owing to a number of factors, and Indian backtracking, the deal could only be finalized between Iran and Pakistan in 2010. The deal, which would be able to reduce the energy crisis of Pakistan substantially, is being strongly opposed by United State, on very irrational grounds.
In June 2010, the late US special envoy, Richard Holbrook, delivered a message of Obama Administration to Pakistan that, the Pak-Iran gas pipeline “could run afoul of new sanctions”, which were then under consideration in the US Congress. Mr Holbrook then warned Pakistan in the words that, “We cautioned the Pakistanis to try to see what the (congressional) legislation is before deciding how to proceed because it would be a disaster if … we had a situation develop where an agreement was reached which then triggered something under the law.”
While maintaining its opposition, US continue pressurizing Pakistan to get out of this deal. Very recently, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, warned Pakistan, once again for the consequences if it goes ahead with Iran-Pakistan Gas pipeline. In the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, she said that, US would impose “additional pressures” if Pakistan opts to move “beyond talk”, under the Iran Sanctions Act. She advised Pakistan to fulfil its energy through TAPI, another gas pipeline project from Turkmenistan to India, via, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ms. Clinton warned that Pakistan already has a “quite shaky” economy, thus additional sanctions would severely deteriorate its economic crises. Behind the scene, the super power offered Pakistan, a number of measures and financial packages to meet the Pakistani requirements of energy. Pakistan, however feels that, Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline would be a very beneficial project for it in the long-term.
Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, has responded this US intimidation by saying that, Pakistan is a “sovereign country and we will do whatever is in the interest of Pakistan.” Indeed, Pakistan feels that, energy and trade cooperation with Iran is in its best national interests. Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar said that, “Pakistan is pursuing important projects with Iran such as gas pipeline, electricity transmission and also building a more robust trade partnership. All of these projects are in Pakistan`s national interest and will be pursued and completed irrespective of any extraneous consideration.” The Foreign Minister further said that, “I think all our friends are encouraged to understand the real energy crisis that is in Pakistan. We can`t afford to be selective of where we receive our energy supply from.”
Pakistan has already brokered a deal with Iran for this pipeline project. Besides, it will purchase 1,000 MW electricity transmission line and 100MW Gwadar power supply. Owing to its heavy energy needs, Pakistan cannot afford to delink from these agreed energy projects irrespective of the US or any other pressure. More recently, Iran has shown its willingness to supply 80,000 of barrels of crude oil per day to Pakistan on a 3-month deferred payment, which is another very welcoming gesture by Iranian brothers. Pakistan also feels that, UN sanctions do not cover this pipeline project, thus it remains committed to the project. Otherwise, in case, Pakistan backtracked from this deal under US pressure, it will have to face many repercussions, first being the violation of international law. Apart from that, scrapping of this deal would be amounting to spoiling its brotherly relations with Iran, which have repaired over the years, after remaining strained for quite some time since early 1990s.
Rightly responded by Pakistani leadership, after all, why Pakistan should spoil its brotherly relationship with Iran on the demand of international actors in order to fulfill their interests? Why cannot these actors respect the Pakistani interests? Besides being a neighbour, Iran is the only country with which Pakistan has “had age-old relations, based on cultural, ethnic, and spiritual links”. Pakistan shares over 900 kilometres of border with Iran. Traditionally Pakistani frontiers with Iran have always been peaceful, safe and secure. Both countries are bound by a strapping relationship and Iran was the first country which recognized Pakistan upon its emergence as an independent country in August 1947. Indeed, there have been historical linkages between the people of Pakistan and Iran. Iranian migrants and Islamic preachers had left long lasting impression on the people and civilization of Pakistan.
The Muslim Sultanate of Delhi introduced the Persian influence in the subcontinent in 13th Century, which is continuing in today’s Pakistan. This Persian cultural influence remained dominant until the end of Mughal Empire in India. Pakistan has been Iran strategic partners and Iranian soil has been its strategic depth. Iran, indeed demonstrated this by providing all out assistance to Pakistan during 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars. First Pakistani Premier Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan visited Iran in 1949 and Iranian Shah reciprocated in 1950, as the first foreign head of state. Pakistan’s national anthem was played for the first time on the eve of the visit of Shanshah-i-Iran in March 1950. In a way there came to exist a relationship of interdependence between both brotherly Islamic countries right from the inception of Pakistan. Thereafter both countries maintained their bilateral relationship in an atmosphere of Islamic brotherhood and as good neighbours, with mutual acceptability.
Pakistan whole-heartedly supported Iranian viewpoint on the issue of its nuclear programme and maintained that Iran has the right to develop its nuclear programme within the ambit of NPT. Through a progressive reconciliation and chaotic diplomacy, both countries come closer to each other in last few years. In the changing security environment, Pakistan and Iran must boost their ties by maintaining the current warmth in the relationship without taking into account the pressures from international actors.
The leadership on either side must remain steadfast to withstand this pressure. Since People of Pakistan, stand with the courageous people of Iran in this time of difficulties, therefore, the leadership should exploit this opportunity and assure Iran for any support against any foreign aggression by an external power.