September 24, 2023

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A view of Iran through Pakistani eyes

I was on a visit to Iran on the invitation of Iran and I wrote my observations in the hotel room while lying down. It is a well-known fact that you cannot change your neighbors and new ways of development can be found by sitting together with them. This formula is also absolute for my country Pakistan.

There are many hopes in Iran regarding Pakistan. Iran has been a victim of the opposition of the Western world since the 1979   revolution and it is recognized in these circumstances that despite the American and Western pressure from Pakistan for its brother country, no problem has been created for Iran and Pakistan has always rejected the pressure in this regard. In Iran, the decision of the Pakistani government is being seen in a very positive way that Pakistan is taking steps towards barter trade and if the trade of goods instead of currency with each other becomes real, both countries will benefit.

Many things can be made available cheaply to the people of both nations, which are currently expensive and the current wave of inflation has made this step it even more necessary. Iran is still very much interested in the gas pipeline project and it wants Pakistan to complete it as soon as possible. This will provide a large market for Iranian gas and Pakistan will also get relief from the energy crisis.

With the recent electricity initiatives in Gwadar, the notion is being established that there will be progress on the gas pipeline as well. When the dependence of the two countries on each other increases, the perspective of seeing the issues will also change and many issues that are still unresolved will be resolved. Among the unresolved issues, the most important one is that the terrorist incidents are happening around the border of Pakistan and Iran. Both the countries are looking at these events from their own point of view and in many places they have quite different viewpoints from each other. It should be kept in mind that both countries are not affected only by one dimension of terrorism, but Pakistan is facing it on an ethnic and religious basis while Iran is facing it ethnically. Pakistan is worried about the situation in Balochistan and it wishes to get full support from Iran in the affairs of Balochistan so that Pakistan can maintain peace and order in its territory and its important economic development projects like CPEC can see the speed without any obstacle.

Iran is also facing a similar problem in Sistan and it also expects Pakistan to help it for peace and order in Sistan. As far as issues related to religious extremism are concerned, until Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan will not sit on the same table then this monster will keep raising its head again and again in Pakistan and the region and any enemy of peace will keep bringing this monster in the way of economic development. There is also the case of Afghanistan, which has been affecting the region for about half a century and has become one of the few reasons for the ups and downs in Pakistan-Iran relations. Then, as a result of the demise of the Soviet Union, the Central Asian Muslim states became independent, but the affairs of these independent Central Asian states also became such that Pakistan and Iran have differences of opinion.

I have also felt this in Iran and even before this visit I had written several times that Pakistan and Iran should talk openly with each other without any conditions on terrorism, Afghanistan and Central Asian states and their related issues. They should talk to each other, understand each other’s point of view and move towards solving each other’s problems. If the communication level is improved, then timely decisions will be possible on all such issues that cause confusion and misunderstandings. 

Another topic I want to discuss is that the restoration of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which has been mediated by China, is a positive step. But we are not pinning high hopes on it. Our eyes are fixed on possible future events. When you ask Iranians, more or less all of them say that the diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia existed before, but the bitterness between them is known to the whole world and is a real problem. Re-establishment of diplomatic relations alone will not solve the problem. The two countries should continue to talk on every subject, no matter how many bitter memories are attached to each subject. 

Iran is playing a very effective and positive role in the affairs of Syria and Yaman and there is a strong desire in Iran at the moment to make the OIC truly functional. For Iran, being truly functional does not mean that the OIC should pass resolutions over and over again. Iranians want the role of the OIC to be strong enough to protect the interests of Muslims around the world. In order to achieve this goal, it should be completely restructured and the idea is very strong in Iran that Pakistan is a country that has a strong geography, a large population, and abundant resources and its relations with Arab and non-Arab Muslim countries are good and because of this, it has the potential to play a key role in achieving the OIC’s true functional goals. And if Pakistan overcomes its internal issues, then not only Pakistan will get extraordinary benefits, but also the Muslim world will be able to benefit from its best results. 

Another impression is very strong in Pakistan that some religious elements who are also involved in politics have the support of Iran and they are the spokespersons of Iran. But another thought came out in this regard that our friendship is with the people of Pakistan and Iran is a friend of every community in Pakistan. The elements you are talking about are our self-appointed spokespersons and Iran has nothing to do with those spreading religious hatred. Students from all over the world go to Iran to get this religious education and when some of them return to their homeland, they use their religious connections as if they are with the government of Iran. This is not the case at all.

A retired senator from Pakistan visited Iran. He was given a protocol in Iran as a parliamentarian. But when he returned to Pakistan he started painting his sinking politics in religious color and started presenting the Iran visit and the protocols taken in it as if he is now the spokesperson of Iran and we kept beating our heads that we only gave the protocol as a parliamentarian and he was using it for political gains. There is a very strong perception that it is not in Iran’s interest to be identified with a particular religious group in Pakistan as this would create a bias for Iran which would somehow harm Iranian interests in Pakistan.

It will not be beneficial for Iran and this is also true. Pakistanis are also playing their role in Iran and are very active in various fields. There is a separate center for Urdu-speaking visitors in Mashhad. In charge of this center, Ali Bhai and Shehzad Bukhari are ready to serve every moment. I mentioned to Shahzad Bukhari some alarming news regarding religious freedom in Iran, and he told me that there is a Sunni mosque in the neighborhood where he is staying in Mashhad and an educational institution in the suburbs of Mashhad.  There is a seminary of Ahle Sunnats, and all of them have the same patronage of the Iranian government as others.

(The views expressed in this article are just those of the writer) 


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