Iran’s influential Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is in the midst of a three day visit to Pakistan where he has been warmly welcomed by officials in Islamabad. One of the sticking points between the two countries, is a myth perpetuated in the Indian media that New Delhi’s investment in Iran’s Chabahar Port on the Gulf of Oman, is implicitly designed to rival the Chinese built Gwadar Port on Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast.
Iran has repeatedly dispelled such rumours and today, the Foreign Minister stated that he welcomes Pakistani and Chinese investment in Chabahar as part of a further drive to enhance regional inter-connectivity. Zarif further stated that any dealings Iran has with India will in no way jeopardise Pakistan’s security. He further affirmed that Iran will never allow any foreign power, including India to use Iranian soil to commit acts of aggression against Pakistan.
Zarif’s visit to Pakistan comes shortly after Pakistan’s ambassador to Azerbaijan affirmed his country’s willingness to join the North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC), of which Iran plays a central role. While India has marketed NSTC as a rival to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), in reality, both projects would work best if they were cooperatively linked up. The positive discussions between the Iranian Foreign Minister and his Pakistani counterparts, demonstrates that India is increasingly isolated in its attempts to portray both the NSTC and Chabahar Port as Indo-Iranian projects designed as a means to foment zero-sum leverage against Pakistan and by extrapolation China. Iran takes the constructive view that Sino-Pakistani projects and all other projects that Iran is currently involved with should be seen as mutually complimentary and should ultimately be integrated into Iran’s own position along China’s One Belt–One Road, an initiative which Tehran has positively embraced.
Ideally, by linking CPEC to the NSTC, Pakistan’s Gwadar could serve as a southern gateway to Russia and the wider ‘far east’ via Central Asia, while Iran’s Chabahar could serve as a southern gateway to western Eurasia via Turkey and northern Eurasia and Europe via the Caucasus and Russia.
Iran’s likely forthcoming ascension to the Eurasian Economic Union, combined with Pakistan and Iran’s growing relationship with Russia and mutually positive relations with China, is a key element in helping the two countries to restore what prior to the 1980s and 1990s had been a very positive neighbourly relationship.
As trade between Pakistan and Iran increased 50% last year, there is a clear economic impetus to accelerate a full reconciliation in cross border relations. Today’s visit to Islamabad by Javad Zarif will hopefully continue to build trust in what could become one of the most important trading and security partnerships in the region.