Ties with Iran

A MASSIVE opportunity is opening to Pakistan`s west as Iran moves towards seeing sanctions lifted. The visit by Iran`s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, has underlined this fact, and it is unfortunate that the government of Pakistan offered little more than a pro forma reception to the visiting dignitary. This was the moment to unveil a bold new willingness to expand cooperative ties, to sign agreements, to initiate projects. Instead, all we had was a few meetings, some smiles and handshakes, a press conference and a photo op. This is the time for Pakistan to start working to prepare for the moment when, as looks likely, sanctions are lifted on Iran a moment that is not very far away. Mr Zarif was clear in saying Iran is `eager to expand ties`, and this sentiment ought to have been reciprocated with equal clarity. Unfortunately, that didn`t happen.

Pakistan has much to gain from an expansion of ties with Iran.

From energy imports via gas and oil pipelines as well as power through transmission lines, there is huge potential for trade in goods as well. The opening under way to our west is a historic opportunity knocking on our door, and it would be a grave mistake to simply smile at it without doing anything concrete. An impression is in wide circulation that the PML-N government is reluctant to advance matters with Iran because it is deeply beholden to the royal family of Saudi Arabia. It is important to dispel this impression and make clear that where the interests of the country are concerned, the personal interests of Pakistan`s rulers take a back seat. In drawing up Pakistan`s priorities in expanded ties with Iran, it is imperative that economic ties be given primacy.

The scope for bilateral expansion is large, but the real scope for expansion lies in connecting the different neighbours of Pakistan with each other. That opportunity cannot afford to become hostage, or play second fiddle, to any other strategic or vested concerns of specific institutions or individuals. This was not the moment to raise concerns about Iran`s broadening engagement with India, as some members of parliament chose to do. Iran is entitled to engage with any country in the world that it chooses to, and rather than imply a zero-sum perception of Pakistan`s own relations with Iran by raising questions of this sort, the thrust of the conversation ought to have been kept to discussing what sort of work can be commenced immediately to prepare for when sanctions are lifted. The visit by Mr Zarif ought to have been used to produce more quantifiable steps towards an expansion in the two countries` relationship. One opportunity to move further down the road to greater expansion in cooperative ties has been missed; it is to be hoped that subsequent ones will not fare similarly.