Pakistani Scholar from the University of Karachi Ayaz Ahmed underlined Pakistan’s reliance on Iran in various fields, namely in electricity, saying Pakistan has hailed Iran’s offer to supply 3,000 MW electricity.
Ayaz Ahmed made the remarks in an exclusive interview with IRNA in the wake of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Iran.
Imran Khan visited Tehran for the first time after his election as the Pakistani premier in August 2018.
The visit took place on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of establishment of Iran-Pakistan relations.
Prior to Tehran, Imran Khan visited the holy city of Mashhad on pilgrimage to the holy shrine of Imam Reza (AS), the eighth Imam of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) Infallible Household.
One of the most important cooperation between Iran and Pakistan in addition to gas could be supply of electricity from Iran. What is Pakistan’s perspective on this issue?
Ayaz Ahmed: Being an energy-deficit country, Pakistan has been reliant on energy supply from Iran to provide electricity to some districts in Balochistan province of Pakistan. Gwadar city is receiving 14 MW from the 70MW coming through a 400 km transmission line from Pishin in Iran`s Sistan-Baluchestan province bordering Mand, Balochistan province of Pakistan.
Pakistan has welcomed Iran’s offer to supply 3,000 megawatts of electricity. Islamabad has appreciated the offer of the Iranian ambassador, as well as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that Iran’s electricity imports to Pakistan can be expanded to 3,000 MW, up from 100 MW.
As the summer season is approaching, the Imran Khan government should come forward with a plan to import a needed amount of electricity from Iran so that domestic and commercial users in Pakistan will not suffer in months ahead.
What can be the main areas of economic cooperation between Iran and Pakistan?
Ayaz Ahmed: Since both Pakistan and Iran are resource-rich neighboring countries and, more importantly, are located in a geo-economically important region, (connecting the energy-rich Central Asian Republics (CARs) with South and West Asia), all this provides a tremendous potential to Pakistan and Iran of substantially improving their economic cooperation in the region. Given American sanctions on the Iranian economy, the areas left for bilateral economic cooperation include energy, aviation, livestock and trade connectivity. Given the recent revival of Pakistan’s aviation sector under the Pakistan Air force, it can support Iran to boost its (Tehran’s) $4 billion worth of technology market and $ 20 billion worth of aviation sector. Since Iran possesses about 1,187.3 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves and 157.8 billion barrels of oil, this could help energy-deficit Pakistan to import required amount of oil and gas to meet its ever-increasing energy needs in the foreseeable future.
Pakistan can also import iron-ore, iron scrap, dates, detergents, transformers, chemicals, bitumen, polyethylene, propylene, etc. from Iran. While, Iran can increase its purchase of rice, fresh fruits, meat cloth and mechanical machinery from Pakistan.
In this context, Pakistan direly needs to employ sagacious and dexterous diplomacy, as the Trump administration resorted to unilateral reinstatement of crippling financial sanctions on Iran’s economy in May 2018.
The joint economic cooperation between Iran and Pakistan has been set at a level of $ 5 billion until the year 2021, but so far this figure has not been reached. Considering the cultural similarities between the two countries, what do you think the cause of this failure can be?
Ayaz Ahmed: There are certain factors largely responsible for stopping Pakistan and Iran from increasing the level of bilateral trade to $ 5 billion by 2021. These factors include American sanctions on Iran, increasing Indian engagement with Iran, Pakistan’s protracted issue of trade deficit and Islamabad’s reliant on Saudi Arabia for bailout packages, inter-alia. Apart from these, high non-tariff barriers in Iran, high customs duty on items in which Pakistan has comparative advantage (e.g. textile), slow process of import approvals in Iran, dearth of enabling infrastructure that can facilitate trade on Pakistan’s side, poor rail, road and air connectivity between the two countries and less number of land border trade posts.
During this time, two harbors of Chabahar and Gwadar have always been considered as rivals. Do you agree with this view?
Ayaz Ahmed: Yes, I presumably subscribe to this point of view. Speaking realistically, the two harbours of Chabahar and Gwadar are more of rival than complementary in the region when seen in the larger context of cut-throat competition between assertive China and India in the Indian Ocean region. What we should need to take into consideration are the stakes of China and India associated with these two sea ports. China is heavily engaged with the Gwadar Port in order to substantially expand its trade with the Middle East, Africa and Europe, enjoying a shorter, less expensive and less risky trade route. While, India wishes to access the Central Asia region and Afghanistan via the Chabahar Port.
Thus, New Delhi is largely inclined to capitalize on the Chabahar Port to undermine the Gwadar Port in the foreseeable future.
Iran and Pakistan want to make the two sister ports, thus making them complementary to each other in the region in the future. Since Iran and Pakistan are financially reliant on India and China, respectively, both Tehran and Islamabad will have the option to ‘wait and see’.
Is Pakistan dissatisfied with the development of Chabahar?
Ayaz Ahmed: No, not at all. Rather, Pakistan is largely comfortable of and satisfied with the slow but steady transformation of Chabahar into a mega city in the strategically-important Strait of Hormuz. Given strong Pakistan-Iranian economic, diplomatic and security cooperation in the past (except in the 1990s due to the Taliban factor), Islamabad is largely comfortable with and wishes Iran to connect Central Asia and Afghanistan to the larger world through the Chabahar Port.
However, Pakistan has repeatedly shown serious concerns about Indian intention of secretively and allegedly using of Chabahar to operate its spy network against Pakistan’s province of Balochistan. The detained Indian navy commander Kulbushan Jadhav has revealed that New Delhi secretively operates a spy network from Chabahar to insidiously perpetuate terrorism and militancy inside Pakistan. If such a network exists, Iran must immediately stamp it out for the sake of larger Pak-Iran relations and interests.How is Pakistan interested in expanding cooperation in Chabahar?
Ayaz Ahmed: Pakistan has repeatedly shown its interest in making harbours of Gwadar and Chabahar sister ports in the region. More precisely, Pakistan would like to cooperate with Iran to have a win-win connectivity and transit route, connecting the Central Asia region with the world through these two sea ports. Moreover, Pakistan also wants to fully coordinate intelligence with Iran and conduct timely joint anti-terror and counter-insurgency operations in the ‘Pakistan-Iran border region’ for the future security of Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan, the Chabahar Port and Pakistan’s province of Balochistan.
Presumably, under the sway of a major world power and a regional country, some militant outfits are quite active on the Pakistan-Iran border, which carry out deadly attacks on both sides of the border.
Why does not Pakistan welcome the arrival of a peace pipeline?
Ayaz Ahmed: I think, Pakistan warmly welcomed the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline, known as the peace pipeline, back in March 2013 when it was inaugurated. As the 2000-km pipeline was to carry 22 billion cubic metres (780 billion cubic feet) of natural gas from the South Pars field of Iran to Pakistan annually, Islamabad decided to complete its portion (worth $ 2billion) of the IP as soon possible in order to get rid of its ballooning energy crisis. However, Pakistan did not have the needed cash and badly lacked the technological capacity to construct its portion of the pipeline. Arguably, one cannot deny the Saudi pressure which was exerted on Pakistan not to proceed with the IP. Obviously, the fear of imposition of economic sanctions on Iran once again in the wake of American unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA in May 2018 also prevented Pakistan from going ahead with the pipeline.
Speaking optimistically, any abrupt change in the hawkish behavour of President Donald Trump or any future American administration in favour of Iran (America could partner with Iran to an extent aimed to contain militarily and economically rising China in the region in the foreseeable future) could enormously help Pakistan and Iran to complete the said pipeline. However, it somehow seems a remote possibility given the nature of hostile relations between Iran and America in MENA region.
Pakistan is receiving vital financial aid from Saudi Arabia. With this in mind, how important is the Iran-Pakistan relations for Pakistan?
Ayaz Ahmed: Yes, on account of back-breaking issues of balance of payment and steep decline in foreign exchange reserves of Pakistan, Islamabad has recently taken $6 billion bailout package from Saudi Arabia to cushion its economy.
Despite this, Pakistan has seemingly decided (under the current government) to diversify its foreign policy, cultivating robust economic, diplomatic and military relations with Russia, China, Turkey, Indonesia, Iran and some Middle Eastern and European countries. Being a neigbouring country, Pakistan appears to begin prioritizing its ties with Iran, as seen from ongoing Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Iran with a view to fostering bilateral economic and security cooperation.
The question of public opinion is why Pakistan, despite its powerful army, does not secure its common borders with Iran, and we are witnessing numerous terrorist attacks on borders?
Ayaz Ahmed: As I mentioned earlier, there are some external powers heavily involved in blatantly sponsoring some militant and terrorist outfits in the Pakistan-Iran border areas with the objective to fan militancy and insurgency in the region.
Despite heavy deployment of Pakistani army personnel on the Durand Line and Pakistan-India boarder due to tensions there, Pakistani army has recently increased its counter-militancy operations and deployment of personnel along the Pakistan-Iran border. Both Pakistan and Iran should expand and enhance timely intelligence coordination and conduct joint counter-insurgency operations along the border to root all militants and insurgents out once for all.
Needless to say, some disruptive regional and global powers provide monetary and military support to militants and insurgents to carry out deadly attacks in Iran’s province of Sistan-Baluchestan and that of Pakistan’s Balochistan province. The underlying objective and nefarious design behind this proxy war is to bring Pakistan and Iran to loggerheads, thus impeding needed Pakistan-Iran cooperation on convergent bilateral security, diplomatic, political and economic relations.
Pakistan and Iran should be aware of it. We should not clean forget that all is fair not only in love, but also in regional and global politics in the contemporary international relations.
How can Iran and Pakistan cooperate in combating terrorism?
Ayaz Ahmed: well, this appears to be the most important question and most critical issue to be resolved on war footings by effectual bilateral coordination and cooperation. Both Pakistan and Iran should not allow other powers to use their soils for proxy wars.
Timely intelligence coordination coupled with vigorous counter-militancy operations along the Pakistan-Iran border is also sorely and direly needed. Equally important, the two countries should beef up security along the entire Pakistan-Iran border so that militants and insurgents will not able to infiltrate into Iran once there is an operation on Pakistani side against certain rogue elements and vice versa.
How can Iran and Pakistan cooperate for peace in Afghanistan?
First and foremost, both countries should keep their pressure (if any) on the Afghan Taliban for a negotiated settlement of the protracted Afghan peace issue with America and the crisis-ridden (dis)Unitary Government of Afghanistan. It is likely that the Afghan Taliban and injured America will find a way forward in the foreseeable future.
In the post-accord period, Pakistan and Iran should enhance their efforts in terms of enormously helping war-torn Afghanistan with respect to institutional building, fostering Afghan economy and increasing the capacity and capability of the Afghan national army and national police.
Ayaz Ahmed is a columnist with The News International and a research scholar at the Department of International Relations, the University of Karachi, Pakistan.
Interview by: Ali Izadi
Edited by: Safar Sarabi