Public Talk on “Pakistan –Iran Relations” May 27, 2016
The Institute of Strategic Islamabad (ISSI) organised a public talk on “Pakistan –Iran Relations”and the distinguished speaker on the occasion was, H.E Mehdi Honardoost, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Pakistan. The talk was held under the “Ambassador’s Platform”forum.
Ambassador Masood Khan, Director General ISSI in his welcome remarks highlighted that Pakistan and Iran enjoy very strong relations, which are anchored in very strong foundations. Both countries are neighbours and have religious, ethnic, cultural and linguist bonds. In the recent past, leaderships of both sides have exchanged visits and through this new beginning both countries are trying to form a new relationship post-US-UN- sanctions. He stated that in the economic realm the Iranian-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline is considered to be a flagship project between the two countries and needs swift implementation. He went on to say that Pakistan needs Iranian steel, oil and gas and iron and electricity and there are plans to build industrial sites inside Pakistan particularly for petro-chemical storage for which Iran has promised to help with infrastructure development. Likewise, Pakistan products particularly textiles, surgical instruments, sports goods, agriculture products also have a huge market in Iran. The Ambassador stated that there have been deliberate efforts to increase bilateral trade to $5 billion by 2021. Pakistan also wants to connect Iran to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and both Iran and China have shown interest in this. He went on to say that Gawadar and Chabahar do not have to be rivals but in fact become sister ports. Both countries share a unique economic geography: they are neighbours, they have contiguous territories; and are therefore very keen to cement their economic partnerships. In fact Pakistan should think of its western corridor passing through Iran going upwards north to Central Asia and Moscow and westwards towards Turkey and Europe. Hence, Tehran is a conduit for Pakistan and any development in Iran does not mitigate development in Pakistan. The DG ISSI stated that Pakistan wants to see peace and stability in the region. Both Iran and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) are eminent and most important countries in the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) and Pakistan wants harmony to prevail.
H.E Mehdi Honardoost, Pakistan and Iran are two important countries of the region, they share political and cultural ties. Any relationship between the two nations should be tangible: trade and economy are important components for achieving this. He stated that the present trade figure does not depict the trade potential both countries have. He cited the recent visit by Iranian President, Dr. Hassan Rouhani as a milestone, because it brought many issues to the forefront- most of these concentrated on trade and business. As a result many channels have been activated between the two countries. Among the various MOUs and agreements that were signed, the connectivity of the private sectors of both countries was an important one. He pointed out that in a few months, a Joint Economic Commission would meet in a new atmosphere post sanctions. The Ambassador stated that the border is very important, not only with regard to trade but because it will help settle many other issues faced by the two countries. Hence, a better life for the people along the border was essential. He emphasised creation of new jobs because of the youth bulge in both countries. Mr. Honardoost pointed out that though Gawadar and Chabahar have been called rivals, there was no competition between the two harbours. In fact, he stated that more connectivity and cooperation was needed. Along with cordial relations in politics and culture both countries should promote trade relations. He went on to cite the number of projects between the countries. On top of the list he stated was the Iran Pakistan (IP) pipeline project which he highlighted has the most benefits in terms of both safety and cost and will help put the economy of Pakistan on the launching pad. He pointed out that despite the criticism this project has faced, if both Pakistan and Iran are in agreement then they should go ahead with the successful completion of the IP project. He also mentioned the Power Transmission Project and hoped that they would take there would be an increase in power supply from 74 MW to 100MW and gradually to 3000 MW.
The Ambassador stated that both Pakistan and Iran are the two biggest Islamic countries in the region and hence have a lot of responsibilities to shoulder. Both countries can work together for a better future not only for the better future of their respective nations but also for the entire region. He stated that international terrorism and narcotics are major concerns and that International bodies should be more active for the peace and stability between Muslim countries. He said his government believed that nobody could drive a wedge between Iran and it’s neighbours. Leaders of both Pakistan and Iran share similar views and approaches to international events and developments. He acknowledged Pakistan’s role as a wise mediator when tensions between KSA and Iran arose last year because it would have been detrimental to the region and said that regional cooperation is the only way for settling down all the matters between the two countries. All sources exist for a better cooperation platform. The future is bright and clear and holds good prospects for both countries.
Ambassador Khalid Mahmood, Chairman Board of Governors of ISSI, in his remarks stated thathistory is proof of the fact that Iran is a dependable friend. Pakistan’s love and affection for Iran dates back to pre-partition and this process has continued till the present. With regard to sectarianism, Ambassador Mahmood called it a curse He said that Pakistan has successfully countered this problem on many fronts and will continue to do so. He also highlighted Pakistan’s role as a harmoniser and mediator in the region. He further stated in this age of regional cooperation, there has to be collaboration instead of competition. He concluded by saying that Iran and Pakistan share a very precious relationship one which must be valued and further strengthened.
During the Q&A session, Ambassador Honardoost stated that Iran will never allow its soil to be used against any country and that Iran considers all of Pakistan’s concerns as its own. He emphasised that there was no ambiguity about this stance. In response to another question he replied that the recent agreement between Afghanistan, Iran and India is in no way a threat to the Gwadar port and in future, both Chabahar and Gawadar will act as sister ports, linking the region via connectivity. The doors are always open for Pakistan to link with the Chabahar port he said.
In his concluding remarks, Ambassador Masood Khan stated that both Pakistan and Iran are now determined to remove all the difficulties and barriers that stand in their relationship and want to realise the full potential of their historic relationship. He said that there are those who oppose full growth of the relations but we will not let these forces undermine growth of the Pakistan-Iran relationship. All these problem areas can be eliminated through dialogue mechanisms. Over the years, Pakistan has always maintained basic and strong solidarity with Iran. At the United Nations, Pakistan has maintained its principled stance on human rights, nuclear rights and sanctions and both, Iran and Pakistan have stood by each other in all international forums. A huge potential exist in the economic realm and steps are being taken to realise this and simultaneously work on the security dimension of the bilateral relations. The IP pipeline is the connective tissue between Pakistan and Iran which correlates them. This must be implemented and all barriers should be removed.