‘Prospects of Pak-Iran Cooperation for Regional Peace and Security’

Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtyar Sb  Chairman National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs

Mr Sadollah Zarei, Executive Director Andishe Sazan-e Noor Institute for Strategic Studies.

 Distinguished guests

Asalam-o-Alaikum and Good evening!

It gives me great pleasure to extend to you all a very warm welcome on behalf of Islamabad Policy Institute.

I would particularly like to extend a very warm welcome to our distinguished speaker, Mr Sadollah Zarei.

Mr Zarei! Your acceptance of our invitation to be a guest speaker is most graciously acknowledged.

IPI is privileged to host today’s lecture on ‘Prospects for Pakistan-Iran Cooperation for Regional Peace and Security’. The topic is relevant to peace and security in the region. We at IPI do sincerely hope that today’s event would contribute to an open and frank discussion on prospects of cooperation between the two neighbours on significant threats that face this region.

In this regard, an appraisal of earlier precedents of cooperation, present threats and the prospects for future cooperation, is imperative.

The history Iran-Pakistan relations has had certain distinct features and characteristics over the past six decades. The two had a very cooperative relationship. Iran was the first country to extend recognition to Pakistan. We do not have contested borders. Both Iran and Pakistan were in the same camp during Cold War and became part of Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). Pakistan and Iran along with Turkey launched Regional Cooperation for Development in1964 to boost economic connectivity. Both hosted Afghan refugees and remained opposed to Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

During 1980s Pakistan became Iran’s second largest trading partner. When Saddam Hussain waged what Imam Khomeini called the ‘whirlwind war’ against Iran in 1980 and the latter urgently needed weapons to resist Saddam’s aggression, who then had the backing of Gulf countries and USA, Pakistan extended support to Iran.

A careful perusal of bilateral relations between Iran and Pakistan also reveals policy divergences on regional security and strategic issues: jockeying for power in post-Soviet Afghanistan by supporting opposite factions; their different trajectories of relations with the world’s sole superpower and the Gulf countries.

To assess the bilateral nature of relations between Iran and Pakistan, one should focus on three critical issues: economic disconnect; Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline and the shared threat of terrorism emanating from a fragile regional security environment.

But the theme of this conference binds me to just talk about the last point.

The security outlook is fragile. Peace eludes Afghanistan, even after a decade and a half long campaign of military invasion and nation-building by western powers. Taliban are ascendant and are increasing their control over considerable areas in southern and eastern regions of the country. They show no sign of relenting. In the first four months of this year, a total of 2, 531 Afghan security forces were killed and close to 5,000 wounded, excluding countless civilian casualties. This has had a severe toll on the confidence and morale of Afghan security forces, both undertrained and at times, insufficiently equipped to face the battle-hardened cadres of Taliban. The infighting and internal divisions in Kabul have made a bad situation worse.

Despite sincere and dedicated efforts of regional states and international powers to find a negotiated settlement, peace talks have delivered little of substance. Their peace overtures have not been reciprocated in kind by Taliban. Trump’s new Afghan policy, though lacking in detail, seems to be a quintessential case of doing more of the same: increase the number of American troops to weaken Taliban, ultimately forcing them to a peaceful resolution of Afghan conflict; externalize its own policy failures and make Pakistan a scapegoat. How Trump with its 4,000 troops achieve what American forces could not do after Obama’s surge is a moot point and for some, eludes comprehension.

In this tumult and chaos, DAESH has spread its tentacles in the region. It has conducted some of the most spectacular attacks in Afghanistan, targeting Afghan security forces and religious and ethnic minorities.

The tentative whispers of DAESH’s presence in Pakistan have been given credence in recent months when the killing of two Chinese was accepted by DAESH. It is speculated that it has made an alliance with local sectarian factions. Islamic State/DAESH also attacked two symbolic locations in the heart of Tehran: Iranian parliament and mausoleum of Imam Khomeini.

All these significant attacks demonstrate the budding capability of DAESH in the region and call for greater cooperation among the states generally and between Pakistan and Iran specifically. Instability and chaos in Afghanistan have always been a source of concern for both countries. The injection of this toxicity of DAESH increases this concern manifold. Terrorist groups like DAESH prey on turbulence, chaos, mayhem and political instability. This shared threat can only be confronted head-on when both states sincerely work with each other for regional peace and deny DAESH any ground to establish itself.. Indigenous sectarian groups infest the border regions of Iran-Pakistan. The recent major gains of Pakistani security forces against these groups might push them seek support from DAESH. The territorial dislodgment of ISIS from both Iraq and Syria can possibly prompt DAESH to search for a place or region to reemerge in a different incarnation.

You will hear more on this issue from Mr Zarei, our learned speaker, and Mr Bakhtyar, the chair of today’s session. We all look forward to a fruitful and stimulating discussion ahead.

I thank you all!


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