Since a few last years, Pakistan-Iran bilateral relations have not only become tense but also deteriorating further. Both countries are emerging as hostile neighbours gradually. Just a few days back Iran’s border guards fired three rockets into Pakistani territory which landed in Paroom tehsil of Paroom district, with no casualty reported. The incident took place just after one day the arrival of former army chief retired Gen Raheel Sharif, the head of the Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT), to Pakistan from Saudi Arabia by a special plane. He was also accompanied with a few Saudi Citizens. The firing of rockets from Iranian side may be just a coincidence or a meaningful coincidence. The adjacent areas of Panjgur and Chagai close to Pak-Iran border have repeatedly witnessed rocket shells fired by the Iranian security forces followed by strong protest from the Pakistani side.
On June 21, an Iranian spy drone flying over Panjgur, some 4 km inside Pakistani territory was owned by a Pakistani JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft. The incident followed warnings by Major General Mohammad Baqeri, the head of the Iranian armed forces, threatened to strike inside Pakistani territory against safe havens earlier this year. The statement came after the Jaish-al-Adl, a militant group, shot dead ten Iranian border guards. Pakistan said at the time that such action would be a violation of international law and warned Iranian forces not to cross the border.
Last year on 3rd March 2016, Kulbhushan Jadhav an Indian RAW spy and terrorist were arrested by Pakistani authorities while entering into Pakistani territory from Iran. Jadhav admitted that he has been entering Pakistan through Iranian Border since long for terrorist activities. His detailed confessional statements were released by Inter Services Public Relations, Pakistan Army. India, however, alleges that Jadhav was abducted by Pakistan from Iran, and now India is putting unprecedented efforts for the release of Jadhav. It is worthy to be noted that India has not put such matchable level of efforts for the release of previously arrested Indian spies or citizens.
Iran is also developing Chabahar Port with the cooperation of Pakistan arch rival India. Both India and Iran are severely annoyed at China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and development of Gawadar Port.
But if the historic analysis is made then it is surprising for many people that both nations have enjoyed friendly and brotherly relations for long in past from Pakistan’s independence in 1947 to Iranian Revolution of 1979. After Independence, Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan officially. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, was the first head of a foreign country to visit Pakistan. Pakistan’s National Anthem is also mostly written in Iran’s National language, Persian. The anthem has heavy Persian poetic vocabulary and only uses one exclusively Urdu word ‘kā’.
Now the question arises that which circumstances have simmered their relations.
First of all, a demographic breakdown should be understood for both nations. Of almost 96 percent Muslim Population of Pakistan, 5-10 percent is Shia Population, rest is Sunni population. And in Iran, Islam is the religion of 99.4% of Iranians. 90-95% of Iranians are Shi’a and 5-10% is Sunni. Population across Pakistan-Iran border is Sunni in the majority. The two nations were conspicuously cooperative from 1947 to 1979, before the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The Iranian revolution was brought under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. After Iranian revolution of 1979, things started changing. At that time Pakistan was ruled by General Zia-ul-Haq, a strict Sunni. General Zia-ul-Haq ruled Pakistan from 1977-88. By that time, Saudi Arabia, ruled by strict Sunni Al-Saud dynasty, has also become an Economic giant and regional power by massive oil discoveries. At the time of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, Iran was not having expansionist tendencies. In fact, Shah was happy in holding only Iranian territories. He was not even much interested in exerting his influence to other countries. But, after Iranian Revolution, Iran started dreaming of a similar revolution inside Sunni majority Pakistan. Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, 1979, also brought Saudi Arabia along with other Arab Countries, USA and its western allies closer to Pakistan. To promote strict Sunni Islam in Pakistan was in favour of all allies to counter invading Soviet Union. Iranians started interference in Pakistani Society to promote Shiism. Sectarian violence erupted in Pakistan in this way.
Iranian expansionist tendencies were not restricted to Pakistan only; they were looking too much forward. Seizure of Grand Mosque Mecca, in 1979, by Iranian Hajj Pilgrims was hiding nothing about Iranian intentions. To overcome that siege Pakistani Commandoes played a pivotal role along with Saudi Security Forces.
So, by the passing time, Pakistan became the battlefield of this sectarian proxy war. Iran has, many times, blamed Pakistani-based militant organizations for killings of Shia in Pakistan. Iran has repeatedly threatened Saudi Arabia for a military attack. Iran is keen to become the custodian of two Holy Mosques, and Pakistan has time and again enunciated that Pakistan will retaliate aggressively if Saudi Arabia is attacked. All these moves and policies of Pakistan have made Pakistan to face ire of Iran.
During recent years, Saudis have blamed Iran for starting a proxy war against Saudi Arabia by using Yemeni soil. Yemen is a country, near to Mecca and Medina. Mecca is less than 800km far from Yemeni border. If Yemen becomes a stronghold of Iran then Iranians will be in proximity to Mecca and Medina, a fear that had forced Saudis to retaliate massively in Yemen. Although Pakistan denied to send troops for Yemen War its military presence in Saudi Arabia in the form of advisers and trainers is not suitable for Iranian expansionist interests.
Pakistan has used Shuttle Diplomacy many times between Iran and Saudi Arabia for detente. The last episode of this shuttle diplomacy was seen in January 2016 when Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif visited Riyadh and Tehran to defuse tensions after Saudi executed as many as 47 people in one day including prominent Shi’a Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr on January 2, 2016.
The need of hour is that Iran must leave expansionist ideologies and must refrain from intervening into affairs of other countries, especially of Pakistan. Iran-India cooperation must be in such a balanced manner that it should not create problems for Pakistan.
Jawad Akram is an Islamabad based Freelance International Affairs Analyst.
He has done Masters in International Relations from University of Sargodha, Pakistan.
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