Will Pakistan learn from its mistakes with Afghanistan to save its ties with Iran?

Published: June 28, 2016
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PM Nawaz Sharif speaks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the PM House. PHOTO: AFP

Even though tensions between Islamabad and Kabul over the Torkham border crossing are yet to be settled, Pakistan has laid the foundation of “Pakistan Gate” near the Iranian border in Taftan. The gate is said to check any illegal trade occurring via Iran, and also help the border guards effectively manage and monitor the border crossing.

What makes this gate different from the one in Torkham is that it is not only built with mutual consent from both Pakistan and Iran – but also on special demand from Tehran, as it has already built a gate of its own inside its border at Mir Java, in Zahedan.

Where one gate at Torkham has evoked sentiments of hatred, ultra nationalism and conflict creating an environment of hostility, the other gate at Taftan has largely remained a subtle and calm affair.

On the face of it, the construction of the Pakistan Gate might appear to be business as usual – where the gate is aimed at promoting legal trade and tourism. Yet, the recent killing of Mullah Mansoor, who is said to have entered Balochistan via Iran, might have served as a chief catalyst for Pakistan’s urgency on the matter.

Furthermore, the growing sectarian attacks on both sides also seem to have contributed towards the construction of these gates. Considering the length and porous nature of the border that both the countries share, initial prospects of the gates, as witnessed in case of Torkham, remain bleak.

The stark contrast in how events unfolded on both the borders also symbolises the historical ties between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Where Iran and its Shah were the first country to recognise and visit Pakistan after its partition, Afghanistan was the only country that refused to accept Pakistan as an independent state.

This symbolic and amicable construction on the Pak-Iran border is a testament to strong and stable ties between both the countries. Yet, the Pakistani electronic and social media was abuzz with the recent opening of Chabahar port in Iran. Speculation was rife that India, Afghanistan and Iran had allied to outflank Pakistan and China, with reference to Gwadar.

But Tehran was quick to deter any speculation as the media hype, especially in India, was negatively affecting the outlook of Pak-Iran ties. Moreover, Tehran not only reiterated its policy of improving bilateral ties with Islamabad, but also called Pakistan a “strategic” ally and a “brotherly” neighbour.

Conspiracy theories like these are fast becoming a norm in Pakistan. National TV anchors and social media pundits spent hours deciphering the hidden agenda behind the Chabahar conspiracy. In reality, the port’s development was initially offered to both Pakistan and China, who opted out of it citing Gwadar as a top priority. Interestingly, Iran has also formally invited Pakistan to use the port alongside India and Afghanistan – an offer that Pakistan is least likely to take up considering its current state of ties with New Delhi and Kabul. In principle, just as Pakistan reserved its right to hand over Gwadar to China, both Iran and Afghanistan, as sovereign states, exercised the same rights with the aim of furthering their national interests.

Even in a scenario where Pakistan is officially concerned about Chabahar’s operations and India’s major stake in the project, maintaining fruitful ties with Iran in that case is vital. In terms of regional politics, Pakistan should also be wary of the fact that Iran has also succeeded in creating a soft corner for itself in Washington; meaning that its trade reliance on Islamabad will reduce in the near future.

What seems to have gone unnoticed in recent events on both the Pakistani borders is the change of local and regional power dynamics. Afghanistan, on its road to stability and recovery, has already sent a clear message of how it aims to play with Pakistan in terms of border controls and management. Iran, on the other hand, has also started playing a proactive role in regional politics by extending ties not only with “brotherly” nations, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but also with a regional power and an uncanny ally such as India.

It is high time that Pakistan takes a lesson out of its neighbours’ pragmatic approach in foreign policy and makes sure that its current stable ties with Iran are effectively used to improve trade and curb sectarian violence in the country, especially the Balochistan province.

Farooq Yousaf

Farooq Yousaf

The author is a PhD (Politics) Candidate currently pursuing his studies in Australia. He has previously completed his Masters in Public Policy and Conflict Studies from Germany. He also consults Islamabad-based Security think tank, Centre for Research and Security Studies, and occasionally writes for various news and media sources. He is specialising in Indigenous conflict resolution and counter insurgency. He tweets at @faruqyusaf (twitter.com/faruqyusaf?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Bairooni Haath

    There is a simple logic that the author failed to understand. Taliban = Pakistan Ally, Northern Alliance = Indian Ally, Shah of Iran = Pakistan Ally, Ayatollahs = Indian Ally. In case you haven’t noticed, Ayatollahs rule Iran and the Northern Alliance rule Afghanistan.Recommend

  • chakrs

    As far as I can see, all that Chabahar offers India is the ability to trade with Afghanistan without Pakistan’s permission. Trade with Iran doesn’t depend on this port. I don’t see what it has to do with Gwadar or CPEC.Recommend

  • Desert Fox

    Well the author may be right but I dont think Iran will be interested in improving relations with Pakistan as there is nothing Pakistan can offer Iran. Pakistan is having an indirect hand in funding terrorism in Iran with Saudi money. Also Pakistan is more close to Saudi which is an enemy of Iran. Iran is more close to India. India does not have linear equation with Saudi. The other issue is Pakistan is more close to China and Iran China relations are under strain with Chabahar. With the lifting of sanctions Iran is more close to the western world and other countries like Japan. It is a complex geopolitics in the region.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Apples and oranges.Recommend

  • malang jan

    Pakistani humiliates & belittles Afghans for buying Pakistani wheat flour & food stuff. No less than ex Defense Secretary & Ex army generals are of the view that Afghans will die of hunger, if we close border & Afghan access to ports. Little they know that Afghans have push for their connectivity to Central Asia & Europe by opening new routes like Lapis Lazuli trade corridor. They are buying Kazak & Turkamen wheat of better quality & low price. Now what, close the border & restrict Pashtun movements across Durand Line you loose jobs in Peshawar & Quetta. A jobless Peshawaeri pashtun with no future, not wanted to be security guard in Lahore or karachi will do what…Hoping that China will fix Iran & Afghanistan to meet the objectives of CPEC & the Generals do what they do the best is a pipe dream. Isolation like North Korea is only future unless their is major shift in thinking.
    Recommend

  • shiva the destroyer

    Unfortunately Pak has nothing to offer on the table….so its Iran who dictates the termsRecommend

  • Jayant

    The simple answer is ” NO” . Pakistan never learned anything from its Bangladesh fiasco nor did it from Baluch problem ! infact it serves the Army better if pakistan is in a state of constant war , keeps the Army in strong position. Chaos is the best way to forward your own agenda , make money , send kids to rich Western countries . Pak Army cares about itself 1st !Recommend

  • Lets look at logic

    Pakistan civilian state and Pakistan army state are two different entities, with the latter having the say in all matters.Recommend

  • Jayman

    Christiane Fair’s book tells us why Pakistan never learns any lessons. All failures are brushed under the carpet and never documented. Tales are made up to cover up the failings and made to look like conspiracies. So you learn nothing when there is nothing to learn from.Recommend

  • stevenson

    Pakistan has to improve the border with Iran to prevent the incursion of Indian agents like Yadav so its good to know Iran is helping to build a effective border control. The Afghan border control is even more important since the Afghans remain an Indian puppet state and let India use it as a base to attack Pakistan.Recommend

  • stevenson

    No Pakistanis want that the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan be secure with controlled movement since India uses Afghanistan as a base.It’s good that Afghanistan can work for transit via Iran and India so then Pakistan is not obliged to open the border to Afghanistan until the border situation is resolved. Also good that Afghanistan does more trade with wheat from Central Asia and not buy Pakistani wheat since Afghanistan should diversify its sources for its future. Now the millions of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan can also return to Afghanistan and work in Lapis Lazuli trade corridor or shift to Central Asia and Iran to facilitate trade! This way new jobs and opportunities can be created for native Pakistani Pashtun in their own country with the projectes planned with CPEC. CPEC priority should be to create jobs in the trade zones for Pakistani citizens first.Recommend

  • Gp65

    Mostly agree. But it does two more things
    – reduce cost of trade between India and central asia
    – give Afghanistan the option of trading through Chabahar instead of depending solely on Karachi portRecommend

  • ABDALI

    You do realise that there is no such thing as Pakistani Pashtun. Pashtuns are all Afghans. You dont believe it, ask one of the Pashtuns in Pakistan to show you his domicile certificate issued by the Pakistani Government. IT SAYS AFGHAN. and by the way next you make a mesile, try not to steal Afghan names such as ABDALI and Ghoori. Try calling it ALI JINAH and see if it fires.Recommend