Iran and Pakistan: Expanding Trade Relations and Confronting Terrorism

Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan's visit of Iran, with a high-ranking political and economic delegation for two days, is aimed at further strengthening bilateral ties in diverse fields. This is the first visit of Imran Khan to Iran and it happens in a time when the United States has been pushing for massive economic sanctions against Iran after withdrawing from nuclear deal in last year. This visit can lead to the expansion of cooperation between the two countries, particularly in expanding trade relations and fight against terrorism and borders security. “Pakistan attaches great significance to its neighbors, especially the Islamic Republic of Iran, which shares many interests and commonalities with Pakistan,” the Prime Minister said.

The relationship between Iran and Pakistan has always been good during the seventy years after the independence of this state. Two countries with more than 900 kilometers of common borders and complementary economies have benefited from special blessings for growth relations. The volume of bilateral trade has grown steadily over recent years and total trade nearly $ 1500 million in 2018.

Pakistan is also the eighth world destination to Iran's exporting products, and among the neighboring countries, after the UAE, Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan, ranked fifth. However, as the two high-level officials agreed on the 20th meeting of the Joint Economic Commission of Iran and Pakistan in April 2017, the volume of bilateral trade relations could raise to at least $ 5 billion, which, if realized, will not only increase prosperity and employment for the residents of the border provinces of the two countries, but will also contribute to the development and security of the region. Iran and Pakistan also are co-founders of the ECO, but this structure is not an active organization.

Nevertheless, Tehran's economic relations with Islamabad have never been high, and Iran's attempt to create the energy transfer pipeline from southern part of country to Pakistan and India, called the Peace Pipeline, has failed because of the US pressure on Islamabad. Since 2012, the United States has been attempting on the Silk Road project to create a transit pipeline called TOPI from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India in order to bypass Iran and remove the Peace Pipeline.

The recent visit should be mostly analyzed in the framework of the Iran's policy aimed at regional response to US sanctions. Iran has been trying to expand its regional ties in recent years. Relations with countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan have been aimed at reducing US economic pressures. For Iran, with fifteen neighboring countries (in land and sea), it is natural that it tries to expand economic relations with them to reduce the pressure of unilateral sanctions.

Therefore, the expansion of relations with Pakistan can be mainly influenced by the necessity of reducing the impact of the pressure of US sanctions. In the current context, expanding ties with Pakistan is the best response that Iran can show to US behavior. One interesting point in Iran's foreign relations is that over the past five years, the level of trade relations with neighboring countries has increased significantly, and this have been unprecedented in the past two centuries.

This does not, of course, mean the lack of issues and problems such as disagreements over Afghanistan, actions about terroristic groups or recent negative role of Saudi Arabia. One issue in the relationship between the two countries is the situation in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, Tehran and Islamabad have limited possibilities to reach agreement on this for a variety of reasons. The most important reason for the disagreement is also the blurring relations between Islamabad and Kabul.

The terrorist groups on the borders of the two countries and their actions against Iran from the borders of Pakistan have always been a cause for concern in Tehran and it has always criticized the passivity of the Pakistani security forces regarding border control. The issue of the security of 900 kilometers between the two neighbors is among the most important topics discussed during the visit of Imran Khan to Tehran.

In the past five years, issues have been raised between Iran and Saudi Arabia over Syria and Yemen, and Saudi has encouraged and pressured Pakistan to reduce relations with Iran, but the overall trend in relations has not changed.

In sum, it can be concluded that the US policy regarding pressure and sanctions and isolation of Iran has not been able to limit the relations of Tehran with its neighbors, and the talks and agreements between Hasan Rouhani and Imran Khan shows that Iran has still good opportunities to reduce the pressures.

At the same time, we should not exaggerate the achievements of these talks, and we need to talk with caution about implementing agreements on confronting terrorism. Pakistani State is faced with many restrictions, and radical political parties and groups in Pakistan challenge its authority and responsibility in fighting against terrorism.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.