Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Iran for Pakistan: A Friend or a Foe?

Writer is a News Producer with Saach.TV and a political commentator based in Islamabad.
Twitter: @SaqibTanveer

Iran has been donning the attire of the untouchable for so long. Casted aside by international powers, specifically the west.
However, for Pakistan, Iran is a country that Pakistan can never take its eye off.
Pakistan has endured a lot in the last five or six years or so, both economically and security wise. While Pakistan has waged a war under its own territory, Iran has been able to expand and flex its muscles across the region, be it the establishment of a pro-Iran regime in Iraq or Afghanistan or be it trade with major powers including Russia, China and India.
Looking at the history of relations between the two countries, one gets mixed signals. There have been times when the interests of the two have coincided while there have also been times when there has been a conflict. Current scenario is not any different. While economically both the countries want to trade with each other, as both have granted Most Favorite Nation (MFN) status to each other, geo-politically their destination is not the same.
Iran is a country that has a history of keeping its economic and political relations aside. Iran has a great animosity with Turkey but it is exporting its electricity to Turkey. Iran vis-à-vis United States, is the same. Iran is still allowing US to pass through Strait of Hormuz.
Iran has been trying to get cozy with Pakistan in the recent years by enticing it with several offers including its gas and electricity and it has been able to seduce Pakistan, to some extent. It is better for both the countries to keep going with their economic relations as both countries need each other despite ‘soft pressure’ from western powers.
Iran, isolated by the world, needs partners with which it can trade and has been able to find solid ones including the likes of India and Russia. On the other hand, Pakistan is starved of virtually everything – from peace to energy. And there is no better place than Iran for Pakistan to get both peace and energy, but can it find both simultaneously is the million dollar question.
Pakistan and Iran are currently on a honeymoon period. Romancing economically.
But when it comes to political issues, Iran and Pakistan are poles apart. There are a host of issues keeping the two countries apart.
Gwadar port is an asset that Pakistan values a lot but Iran has serious reservations on Pakistan’s port as its functioning would dent the Chabahar port of Iran, resulting in all the trade to Central Asia routing from Gwadar rather than Chabahar.  Iran would never ever want to lose that precious strategic asset, it has in the shape of Chabahar. And this is the very reason for the theories floating that Iran has been active in Balochistan to destabilize the province and jeopardize the Gwadar port.
Apart from the Gwadar port, Afghanistan is another utmost priority of the two countries. Current regime of Afghanistan, headed by Northern Alliance’s Hamid Karzai, is known to be pro-Iran.
Pakistan, on the other hand, hasn’t had a good relationship with Northern Alliance. The problem will arise when the US will withdraw and the talks for a new regime will begin. Pakistan will always favor Taliban instead of Northern Alliance and Iran will want the exact opposite, though Iran has started to increase its ties with Taliban. Still Iran would fancy Northern Alliance over Taliban.
Peace in Pakistan is directly linked to Afghanistan and Pakistan would never want any regime in Afghanistan that has any hostile intentions – North Alliance is not very much cordial with Pakistan. This is another issue, where both the countries do not see eye to eye.
Obviously, when one sees the relations of Iran and Pakistan, one must also keep the wishes of United States in mind, as it is one of the main string-pullers in the region.
United States may beat the drums of being anti-Iran but from inside, the rogue posture of Iran serves the purpose of US in the region. A rogue Iran keeps Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel dependent on United States. Plus Iran is also helping United States in not letting the regime of Bashar Al-Assad fall.
Regarding Pakistan, US would definitely want Iran and Pakistan to be on the same page when it comes to formation of a new set-up in Afghanistan. So, apparently, there won’t be any ‘substantial’ eye brows raised by US over Iran and Pakistan trade relations. But there may well be problems when the issue of Central Asia will be on table, but that is a totally different ball game.
It is difficult to ascertain how Iran and Pakistan will work together politically but one thing is for sure that both Pakistan and Iran has so much to offer each other. For me, economically Iran can be Pakistan’s darling but politically, I see them as foemen.