Bilateral International Relations Multilateral Prelims cum Mains

Imran’s Iran outreach— evolution of a relationship, what it means for India


The news

  • Recently, at a joint press conference with Iran, Pakistan’s Prime Minister accepted that its soil is being used for carrying out terrorism in Iran and urged to establish trust between the two countries.


Understanding the relation between Iran and Pakistan

During Cold War Era

  • The Shah of Iran was a Cold War ally of the United States, and during this time, Iran and Pakistan were important partners.
  • Pakistan acted as a buffer zone for Iran against the Soviets and the then Soviet-leaning India.
  • In 1950s, Iran proposed a confederation of the two countries with a single army, on the following basis-
    • Iran and Pakistan both were already members of the CENTO (the Cold War military alliance known as the Central Treaty Organisation), part of whose structure was political, military and economic integration.
    • Arab countries were already experimenting with political confederations.
  • The Iran-Pakistan relation was so strong that Iran threatened to attack India in the support of Pakistan in the 1971 Bangladesh War.


Post 1979 Islamic revolution/Afghanistan war

  • The 1979 Islamic Revolution is a turning point in the Iran-Pakistan relationship, where Pakistan allied with the Saudis in the war in Afghanistan.
  • In the 1990s, the Pakistan-backed Talibanto gained control over Afghanistan and Iran backed the Northern Alliance against it.
  • In later years, the future of Afghanistan and the Baloch insurgency became the major sticking points in the relationship.
  • The trust deficit between Iran and Pakistan increased after influence of the Saudis in Pakistan’s foreign and security policy and investment in Pakistan’s Balochistan province.
  • Pakistan appointed former Pakistan Army Chief General for leading the war in Yemen against the Iran-backed Shia Houthi rebels.


Current situation

  • Iran has been criticizing Pakistan for the killing of Shias and backing of Sunni terrorist outfits involved in attacks in Iran.
  • Proximity of Pakistan to Saudi Arabia, which is Iran’s great rival has been constantly blocking the ties between Iran and Pakistan.
  • However, the two countries are now getting attracted towards each other for the following reasons-
    • Iran is a potential supplier of natural gas to Pakistan, which is facing a massive supply shortfall.
    • Iran has emerged as Afghanistan’s largest trading partner as well as an alternative route for Afghan trade with the outside world, sidelining Pakistan.
    • In the context of US sanctions and its policy of isolating Iran, it needs trading in the region to counter the efforts of US.


Background for improving relations between Iran and Pakistan

  • In February, 2019, around 27 members of the Iranian elite Revolutionary Guards in Sistan-Baluchistan were killed in an attack, for which Iran blamed the group Jaish al-Adl being operated from Pakistan.
  • The President of Iran asked Pakistan to act decisively against anti-Iranian terrorists.
  • Later, a few gunmen killed 14 members of Pakistan security forces in Balochistan, and Pakistan alleged that they had training and logistic camps inside Iran.
  • To resolve this increased tension over attacks on both sides, the Prime Minister of Pakistan reached out to Iran with a joint conference.


Highlights of the joint conference between Iran and Pakistan

  • On Terror front-
    • Both the countries agreed to set up a joint rapid reaction force at the borders forcombatting terrorism.
    • Pakistan’s Prime Minister agreed that Iran has suffered from terrorism perpetrated by groups operating from Pakistan.
    • They agreed to not allow any terrorist activity from their soil.
  • On the trade front-
    • Iran showed its willingness to boost trade and business ties with Pakistan.
    • Iran agreed to meet Pakistan’s oil and gas demands and increase electricity exports to Pakistan.
    • The two agreed to increase cooperation between Iran’s southeastern Chabahar port and Pakistan’s Gwadar port.
    • They also agreed to facilitate the construction of a railroad connecting Istanbul to Islamabad.
  • On political front-
    • Iran stressed upon non-interference of any other country in impacting bilateral ties between Iran and Pakistan.


Significance of this joint conference

  • This is a trust building effort from both the countries and could bridge the trust deficit.
  • This is expected to bring confidence in both countries towards each other and could revive their older ties.


Impact of this overall scenario on India

  • End of waiver: The U.S has ended the waiver for India to buy Iranian oil, which could negatively affect the ties between India and Iran and Pakistan’s outreach towards Iran at this pointcould a add on to this.
  • Reciprocity: The U.S has backed India in its effort to get Masood Azhar’s listing as global terrorist pressurizing Pakistan and China and in return, the US wants India to back it sanctions against Iran.
  • Dilemma for India: India is being lobbied by both the US and Iran at the same time, which presents a dilemma for India as it may have to choose a side in the future. It would be challenging for India to find a creative way to satisfy both Iran and the US.
  • Unpredictability: The US has assured India of the continuing exemption of the Chabahar port project in Iran, but the US policy is unpredictable due to which India would need to speed up the progress of the Chabahar port development.

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