Balancing the disgruntled allies
In 1947 when Pakistan came into being Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan as a sovereign state and at that time both countries were in partnership with US in post-independent years. After the revolution in Iran that came in 1979, therelations between Iran and Pakistan started worsening. Their current relations can be discussed in two phases: the pre-revolutionary period and the post-revolutionary period. The pre-revolutionary period was considered ideal between the two neighbouring countries.Both countries were on the same track regionally and internationally and there were no disputes between two countries, rather both of them had lot of common interests,on the basis of which they began their diplomatic ties and improved their economic conditions by trade, both economically and militarily. During that whole period, both countries enjoyed equal and mutual coordination with each other. Both eliminated the initial separatist movements from their countries i.e. Sistan and Baluchistan Province vision.Even on the regional side, Pakistan’s foreign policy remained India centric and on that stance, Iran fully supported Pakistan. On the international side, both countries had mutual cooperation in OIC, RCD and both were part of CETO and CENTO as well since, in both cold war and pre revolutionary period, Tehran and Islamabad were in the alliance of United States and this alliance enabled co-operative measures between two states under the leadership of America; that is why pre-revolutionaryera was considered as a co-operative era.
However, on the other side, both Tehran and Islamabad have faced a lot of competition and challenges and in the post-revolutionary period. A complete paradigm shift took place after 1979. Tehran adopted an anti-west and anti-American foreign policy and Islamabad remained on the same track; it never went for confrontation with west or with US. Due to these differences, both countries started facing a lot of new challenges in their regional and international policies. For instance, both were facing the issue of the Afghan war in this period and both were trying differently to gain influence in Afghanistan.That created a sort of competition between the two countries and later on, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, both countries accelerated develop relations with Central Asian countries and through both economic and military means, which resulted in further competition between the two states.
Currently the two countries do not have a lot of common grounds for developing their relations but they do have a mutual realization that they have 909 kilometre border which is considered as border of peace since neither had a threat from the other and this is the reason neither of them deputed their military on the border.However, in the post 1979 period, three main challenges occurred on this border: first is the smuggling of drugs, second is human trafficking and the third is terrorism or sectarianism. These challenges created problems for both countries since sectarianism has created a major threat for both countries in form of Shia-Sunni rivalry. Both states claim that they are not involved in these activities; however non-state actors play a vital role in increasing these challenges for both of the countries.
On a similar note, Pakistan is also facing problems to balance its relations on one hand with Saudi Arabia and Iran and on the other hand with United States and Iran. It is a very difficult issue in regional politics because Iran is being isolated by western countries, especially by America for the last 40 years.Iran adopted its foreign policy to nurture relations with Russia and China along with some others regional actors .It is now proceeding to have relations with India with which it has around 18 billion dollar. On other hand Pakistan does not have good relations with India so far and they are expecting Iran to have good relations on their side than that of India but it is actually impossible for them since they are having India as a major economic partner on their side. As far as Afghanistan is concerned Iran is having deep influence in northern alliance but on the other side Pakistan is having good relations with Taliban.
Pakistan saw Taliban as a strategic ally which was in resonance with Pakistan strategic depth. It always wanted a regime in Afghanistan which comply with Pakistan interest and since they are having cultural bonding too from Pashtun side. While on the other hand when Taliban seized power in Afghanistan they attacked mazari sharrif killed tens of thousands of shia population this created two challenges for Iran, first Iran was having a huge refugee influx. Second a wahabi Taliban regime was more inclined to Saudi Arabia so Iran opted for Afghan Government and northern alliance an anti-Taliban faction which are also having cultural bonding and this gives a major challenge again for both countries as after 9/11 confrontation. It has influenced the regional politics a lot. There are two main factors which are influencing Pakistan’s relations with Iran. First is role of United States, since Pakistan can never ignore the U.S pressure because of its relations at regional international and bilateral levels. Secondly the role of Saudi Arabia and other Arab’s countries also has a lot of influence on building relations of two countries.
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan has a lot of linkages which is completely not acceptable by Iran, especially the recent military alliance of different Islamic states that established in Saudi Arabia has also proved as a major setback for developing good relations of the two states. While on a major level both countries have realised that their security and politics are interconnected with each other and for this they are trying hard not to compromise their relations. Since threats for both countries are not common Pakistan is completely having anti Indian foreign policy while Iran is having anti Saudi foreign policy but on regional and bilateral level terrorism is a common ground where both countries can cooperate with one another to fight against terrorism. It shows that on bilateral level there is some of relations that are developing between the two states but on regional and International level both of them are still facing a lot of challenges to have good relations.