It’s time for Islamabad and Tehran to set things right between them.
Just as Iran was returning to global contacts after the lifting of sanctions, Pakistan should have reached out to it in its own interest. That we faltered when President Hassan Rouhani visited Pakistan last month has been pointed out by Iran’s ambassador to Pakistan, Mehdi Honardoost. He said Tuesday: “Despite good contacts between the security institutions of Pakistan and Iran, the news about the RAW agent was leaked to the media, which is unprecedented.”
The hint was to an Army public-relations tweet saying Pakistan Army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif had “asked Rouhani to convey to India that they should stop these activities and allow Pakistan to achieve stability.” It developed that we got too upset about the Kulbhushan Yadav affair and forgot to handle the message to Iran tactfully. Rouhani was in Islamabad to talk about the pipeline, which we signed for in 2013 to import $2.5-billion worth of gas annually, and raise bilateral trade to $5 billion from the current abysmal levels.
Pakistan sees the world through its India-centric glasses and Iran has been on the wrong side of it since the post-9/11 war began in Afghanistan in 2001. Under pressure from America and Saudi Arabia, Pakistan adopted an Afghan policy opposed to Iran’s, but much of it was forced by Iran’s own isolationist drive. Today, the new Tehran slogan of “heroic flexibility” signals a retreat from that posture.
Pakistan and Iran have been standing on the wrong side to each other. There was an anti-Shia campaign in Pakistan resulting in much killing of the community at the hands of extremist elements funded by Saudi Arabia. Pakistan had allowed the Arab-Iran war in the Gulf to be relocated to its territory and has not been able to stop the massacre of the Hazara Shia in Quetta to this day. It allowed Iranian diplomats and trainees to be killed on its soil and did nothing to stop Pakistani/Kuwaiti terrorist Ramzi Yousef in 1994 from bombing the holy shrine of Imam Reza in Iran, killing 27 worshippers.
Iran and Pakistan fought a covert war against each other—in 1998 Iranian diplomats killed in Mazar-e-Sharif were blamed on Pakistan—and Iran leaned in favor of India to avoid fallout from its policy of global isolation. But today there is opportunity for Pakistan to set things right. It can persuade President Rouhani to neutrality in the face of India’s pincer of subjecting Pakistan to instability on its western border. And Pakistan can allay its neighbors’ fears by pushing the current diplomacy of normalizing its relations with India.