Rebuilding Iran Pakistan symbiosis for a robust ECO

By Moin Ansari

Iran Pakistan Pipe(blood) Line

Tehran has much to offer Pakistan, and Islamabad much to proffer to Tehran. The people of Iran and Pakistan are brotherly neighbours. The Iran Pakistan pipeline is a pipeline of peace that would reduce power shortages in Mirpur, Gilgit, Waziristan, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, and Karachi. Pakistan could provide assistance to Iran in manufacturing and services.

Pakistan has nuclear and manufacturing technology which could assist Iran in more than one way. Iran has the energy to supply electricity to Pakistan. Both countries are vital links to Central Asia and Afghanistan.

Both countries have learned the lessons of the fratricidal competition that contributed to the prolongation of the Afghan war, and then the eventual invasion of Kabul by US forces. The Iran Pakistan inimicalness has deprecated the influence of both countries in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

There is tremendous equity in Pakistan for Iran and the Islamic revolution in Tehran. Almost all Pakistanis appreciate Iran’s just stance on Kashmir and Palestine. There is tremendous synergy between the two countries. The large Shia community in Pakistan has help grease the skids for better relations with Iran. The Sunnis in Iraq should work with the Iranian government ot make it happen. Both countries have been working together to eliminate terror in Baluchistan. However the need of the hour is to have a super-national structure of Iranian and Pakistani guards who would take action in both countries as a joint force. The borders at Chaman leave much to be desired. The Baluch should be free to move back and forth like the Pakhtun do at Torkham. The border should be porous for goods and services. An Iranian-Pakistani symbiosis could rejuvenate the ECO and help Turkey in its relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan. Iran and Pakistan could be bridge between Central Asia and Europe.

The US-Mexico border is a land of opportunity for both countries. There are “maquiladoras”–joint manufacturing facilities that allow US and Japanese companies to take advantage of US business prowess and Mexican work ethic and labour to create cheap and robust goods for the world.  The Iran Pakistan border should have hundreds of miles of joint factories created by the public-private partnership between the two countries.

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Iran has faced sanctions for a decade, and may face a tightening of the sanctions regime. Pakistan has tremendous diplomatic pull in the Arab world. It could help reduce the tensions in the Gulf, and assist Iran if facing the realities of the Middle East.

In the sixties the RCD offered tremendous opportunities for cooperation. However the Shah’s hubris and arrogance reduced the stature of the RCD and in fact one of the first steps of the Islamic regime was to abolish it. Tehran viewed the RCD as an American prop.

Today, the $20 billion Islamabad, Tehran, Istanbul train line is a good first step of cooperation. This should be expedited, and enhanced with bullet trains, fibre-optics lines and energy supply chains.

The US is a huge impediment to two critical projects for Pakistan. One project is the Iran Pakistan pipeline. The other one is the sale of at least 2000 MW of power for Pakistan. Both project would help Pakistan’s critical energy shortage. Iran also has developed missiles that have reached space. Pakistan and Iran could cooperate in missile technology. Iran offers tremendous opportunities in employment for Pakistanis. Pakistan has the infrastructure and universities that could assist Iranians in an Islamic environment. Pakistan’s English speaking capabilities could help Iran. Thousands of Iranians study in Pakistani institutions and no batch of the Arm, Air Force and Navy graduates without Iranian and Palestinian Cadets. Pakistan could assist Iran in establishing Cadet Colleges and military academies which provide world class education. Pakistan’s energy sector offers huge opportunities for Iranian businesses. Gwadar and Chabahar could become sister ports and offer Dubai like services. Iran could cooperate with Pakistan in textiles, and agriculture to develop industries to capture $200 billion food market of the gulf. Iranian Pakistani cooperation would reduce Shia Sunni tension within Pakistan and in the entire Middle East. Saudi Arabia and Yemen would be huge beneficiaries of this cooperation. Pakistan could help tone down Iranian rhetoric and build relationships with the US.

The list is endless.

The current Indo-Iranian tiff offers a huge opportunity for Tehran and Islamabad. they have already cooperated on Afghanistan and put up a joint front at the tripartite conference on Afghanistan that was held in Tehran.

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The US influence in Pakistan is a huge impediment to the Iranian-Pakistani symbiosis. The current establishment sees US as a way to enrich themselves. The obsequious compliance to US diktats is sickening and should be reduced.

Both Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif understand the language of the Dollar. They have sold themselves cheap to US interests.  $7.5 billion is peanuts. Pakistan deserves better.

Iran needs Pakistani cooperation. Religious scholars should work together on re-creating a joint fiqah. This may not happen instantly, but the religious parties of both countries should work under the auspices of the OIC to work towards that goal. For too long, foreigners have tried to use the Shia Sunni differences to inject themselves into domestic politics. Iran was almost trifurcated on this issue. Today blood is being split because Iran and Pakistan have not shown the foresight and the cooperation that is needed.

The burial of Jundallah, the cooperation on Afghanistan, and the offers of energy transaction are fantastic icons of Iran-Pakistani cooperation–however these are simply baby steps. We need to move beyond these baby steps and cooperate on the big issues of our time–Kashmir, Palestine, the future of post-US Afghanistan, burying the hatchet in Yemen, building more Dubai, duplicating the sprit of self-reliance, creating a robust ECO, and establishing parameters of a United Fiqah. Our progeny should not live with a divided factions–there should be dozens of jamats working for unity. A little give and take can establish coordinated policies, structures and a common platform of joint prayers and practices. Some differences will remain–but they could be within the parameters that are acceptable deviations within a three sigma framework.

Iran has tried arming and funding factions in Pakistan. Islamabad reacted with its own retribution. Afghans suffered for a decade. Bharat found a foothold in Kabul and the US used that foothold to wage a war for a decade killing hundreds of thousands. Cooperation between Iran and Pakistan could have and would have prevented the tragedy. Today Iran and Pakistan have a joint front on Afghanistan.  The current politicians are bickering over the NRO and deal politicians. The media is busy with salacious Shoaib-Sania nonsense. There is no Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to look beyond the horizon. Imran Khan though honest does not have the vision to look beyond his nose. His party is full of bigots who want to get mileage out of petty fights with city leaders. Nawaz Sharif has no vision on anything beyond making money and protecting his turf on the GT Road. Asif Zardari has shown tremendous acumen in building consensus and talking bold steps in creating Gilgit-Baltistan, passing the NFC, passing the 18th amendment and creating a policy on Afghanistan. Kudos to him and his team on this. No one thought that Mr. Zardari could pull off this miracle. However there is a vacuum in Mr. Zardari’s Iran policy–the molasses is American pressure, and it is hard for Mr. Zardari to overcome it.

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Iran should offer some bold steps to overcome the resistance in the lower ranks of the bureaucracy. Iran should work with the Pakistani politicians, create lobbies, and create business opportunities which would make it impossible for Pakistani politicians to say no to Iran. Tehran has done this brilliantly in Lebanon, and in Gaza. Iran did not push a Shia message in Gaza. It did not antagonize Sunnis in Lebanon. It simply created new realities that helped the Palestinian cause.

Iran should use lobbies in Pakistan and “buy” equity so that the Iran-Pakistan pipeline becomes a reality very soon, and the sale of electricity to Pakistan is not restricted to 2000 MW–the amount of electricity to Pakistan should be 10,000 MW in three years. Iran should invest very heavily in Pakistan coal which could assure energy for both countries for the next few centuries.

Iran has to learn to work the Pakistani system and purchase the equity which would create a robust ECO–beneficial to both nations.

Time is running out–for both countries. With Bharat knocking at the door on Afghanistan, and Israel chomping at the bits in Iran–a joint Pakistani-Iranian front would keep the barbarians at bay, dissuade the war mongers, and bring peace to Afghanistan and the people of Pakistan and Iran.

published in Rupee News