Under alleged pressure from China, Pak dragging feet with reliable partners Iran, S. Arabia

Islamabad [Pakistan]: Pakistan has made numerous promises to Iran in the recent past, and according to observers, is unlikely to fulfill most, which raises the question of whether it can ever be a reliable partner for Tehran.

Since 2012-13, Islamabad has been sending confusing signals to Iran, Saudi Arabia and many other alliance partners.

The latest setback to the progress of bilateral ties, if it can be called that, is Pakistan dragging its feet on the Iran-Pakistan Gas pipeline under pressure from China.

Experts and observers of this development are of the view that Islamabad has been forced to put the above project on hold because Beijing has convinced it that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is sufficient for reducing energy scarcity in the country.

One of the outcomes of this pressure tactic has been Pakistan placing the proposal to start ferry services between Gwadar in Balochistan and Chabahar in Iran on the backburner without offering an explanation to Tehran.

It may be recalled that in March 2013, Pakistan and Iran signed an agreement wherein the former agreed to import 21.5 million cubic meters of Iranian gas, per day. No progress has been made since then.

Both countries share an over 900-kilometer-long border, and all is not well on this front too.

The Pakistan military’s collusion with radical Sunni Islamic groups has resulted in groups like the Taliban, getting support from Pakistani security agencies, to carry out activities on the border, even at the cost of hurting Iranian security. Bilateral defence cooperation with Iran is in plodding mode despite the latter showing keen interest to go forward on the same.

In March 2015, Pakistan’s decision to stay away from the Saudi-led military alliance for operations in Yemen, and instead wooing of Iran, came as a rude shock to the its long-term ally and benefactor, Saudi Arabia.

However when former Pakistan Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General (Retired) Raheel Sharif flew to Riyadh to hold discussions on taking over as the head of the 39-nation Islamic Military Alliance, immediately after his retirement in end-November 2016, it raised concerns in Tehran.

General Sharif’s successor as COAS, General Bajwa’s maiden foreign visit to Saudi Arabia, to reassure the country of Pakistan’s commitment to the defence of that country, has further buttressed these doubts in Tehran.

Historically, Iran has always taken the first step to reach out to Pakistan. Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan as a sovereign state after its independence from Britain, and the Shah of Iran was the first Head of State to visit the country. Their relations continued remained cordial till the 1978 Iranian revolution.

Islamabad is hosting the 13th Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) Summit on March 1, 2017. Iran is a founder member of the body, along with Afghanistan, Turkey and Pakistan, and President Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to attend the Summit.

On this occasion, he is expected to follow up on pending issues and seek reasons for delays in implementation of MoUs related to trade, economic and defence cooperation, and progress on the Free Trade Agreement and Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline.

It is, therefore, important that Iran exercises due caution while moving ahead in its relations with Pakistan. These relations, it seems, can no longer be based on trust, but on compromises, possibly influenced by the self-serving agenda of Pakistan’s political and military leadership.(ANI)