Islamabad [Pakistan]: The question of whether Pakistan can ever be a reliable partner for key allies Iran and Saudi Arabia hangs in the balance with Islamabad repeatedly sending confusing signals to Tehran and Riyadh, and often reneging on promises made in the recent past.
Observers are convinced that China is coming in the way of Pakistan not fulfilling most of its promises with Iran and Saudi Arabia since 2012-13.
Pakistan’s dragging of its feet on the Iran-Pakistan Gas pipeline under pressure from China is the latest setback in the progress of bilateral ties.
Experts say Islamabad has been forced to put the above project on hold because Beijing has convinced it that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is sufficient for reducing energy scarcity in the country.
One of the outcomes of this pressure tactic has been Pakistan placing the proposal to start ferry services between Gwadar in Balochistan and Chabahar in Iran on the backburner without offering an explanation to Tehran.
It may be recalled that Pakistan and Iran had in March 2013 signed an agreement wherein the former agreed to import 21.5 million cubic meters of Iranian gas per day. However, no progress has been made since then.
Both countries share an over 900-kilometer-long border and all is not well on this front too.
The Pakistan military’s collusion with radical Sunni Islamic groups has resulted in groups like the Taliban, getting support from Pakistani security agencies, to carry out activities on the border, even at the cost of hurting Iranian security. Bilateral defence cooperation with Iran is in plodding mode despite the latter showing keen interest to go forward on the same.
In March 2015, Pakistan’s decision to stay away from the Saudi-led military alliance for operations in Yemen, and instead wooing of Iran, came as a rude shock to the its long-term ally and benefactor Saudi Arabia.
However, when former Pakistan Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General (Retired) Raheel Sharif flew to Riyadh to hold discussions on taking over as the head of the 39-nation Islamic Military Alliance, immediately after his retirement in end-November 2016, it raised concerns in Tehran.
General Sharif’s successor General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s maiden foreign visit to Saudi Arabia to reassure Pakistan’s commitment to the defence of that country has further buttressed these doubts in Tehran.
Historically, Iran has always taken the first step to reach out to Pakistan. Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan as a sovereign state after its independence from Britain, and the Shah of Iran was the first Head of State to visit the country. Their relations continued remained cordial till the 1978 Iranian revolution.
Islamabad is hosting the 13th Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) Summit on March 1, 2017. Iran is a founder member of the body, along with Afghanistan, Turkey and Pakistan, and President Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to attend the Summit.
On this occasion, he is expected to follow up on pending issues and seek reasons for delays in implementation of the MoUs related to trade, economic and defence cooperation, and progress on the Free Trade Agreement and Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline.
It is, therefore, important that Iran exercises due caution while moving ahead in its relations with Pakistan. These relations, it seems, can no longer be based on trust, but on compromises, possibly influenced by the self-serving agenda of Pakistan’s political and military leadership. (ANI)