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Gen. Asim Munir’s trust-building visit to Iran! By Kashif Mirza

Byadmin

Jul 19, 2023

The writer is an

economist, anchor,

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President of All

 Pakistan Private

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General Asim Munir, Pakistan’s Army chief, visited Iran, met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amire Abdollahain, and discussed the importance of bilateral relations for regional peace and stability. COAS also met with Iran’s Army’s Chief of Staff, General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, to talk about a wide range of topics of mutual interest, including the expansion of bilateral relations. A statement said: “Military commanders on both sides agreed that terrorism was a common threat to the region in general and both countries in particular. They vowed to eradicate the menace of terrorism in the border areas through intelligence sharing and effective actions against the terrorists’ networks, and explore avenues for enhancing cooperation in the security domain.” The top military leadership of Pakistan and neighboring Iran agreed to step up cooperation and intelligence sharing and take effective actions to prevent attacks by separatist militants along their porous border. This is Gen Munir’s fifth overseas trip ever, the visit to Iran follows his previous overseas trips, including visits to China, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the United Kingdom, since he took command of the Pakistan Army. During his visit to China in April, General Munir met with China’s State Councilor Wang Yi and the commander of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) to strengthen bilateral military relations. Both sides emphasized the significance of their robust defense cooperation for regional peace and stability. In Saudi Arabia, the COAS held discussions with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, focusing on enhancing bilateral relations. Similarly, during his visit to the UAE, General Munir met President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to explore ways of strengthening defense and military ties. In the United Kingdom, General Munir engaged in a crucial visit at the invitation of the British Ministry of Defence to address security-related strategic matters. Gen. Munir traveled to Tehran on a two-day visit following a surge in attacks in the country’s southwestern Baluchistan province, which shares a long border with Afghanistan and Iran. 

Gen. Asim Munir ‘s trust-building visit may have the force to reverse the negative tide into positive between Tehran and Islamabad. These interactions will help to strengthen the bonds between both the countries and pave the way for a more secure and prosperous future.

Gen. Munir faces a tough task to diffuse rising tensions along their common border, as the Pakistan-Iran border is a hotbed of terrorism and smuggling with clashes taking the lives of security personnel on both sides. The relationship between the two countries has been fraught and witnessed ups and downs in recent years because of cross-border attacks by militants. Small separatist groups have been behind a long-running insurgency in gas and oil-rich Baluchistan. The visit also comes as tensions have increased between Pakistan and Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, who have been accused of sheltering a key outlawed militant group called Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP. The group has become emboldened since the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in 2021. Previously, in particular, the two countries have been at odds since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in the 1990s. There have been bitter instances, such as in 1990 when Sadeq Ganji, director general of an Iranian cultural center in Lahore, was killed by militants. There was also an attack from the Taliban on the Iranian consulate in the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif in 1998. Eight diplomats and a journalist were killed and Iran and Afghanistan nearly went to war. One issue of perennial interest and disappointment has been the peace pipeline, first discussed between the Iranian and Pakistani governments in the mid-1990s. In order to solve the challenge of insecurity and activities of terrorist elements in the common border areas of the two countries, Pakistan is ready to strengthen its cooperation with Iran and use the most suitable solutions to overcome the current situation and achieve progress in other areas of mutual interest. With pressure mounting on Iran from US sanctions, Iran is placing heavy emphasis on its neighbors for trade and political support. In recent years the two countries have been working together to strengthen bilateral economic ties and to address mutual security concerns over combating terrorism along their common border, particularly Iran’s Sistan province which shares a border with Pakistan’s Balochistan province. However, this time Pakistan, China, and Iran are all at odds with Washington. It remains to be seen if this alliance, even if it is for a limited time, can help Iran get through one of its most challenging periods since the 1979 revolution. It’s stressed the importance of converting the border into a safe economic zone through energy trade and border markets. Regarding energy, Iran is keen to establish the Iran-Pakistan pipeline, a truncated version of the Iran-Pakistan India (IPI) gas pipeline, which has received a tepid response from New Delhi as the latter does not want its energy security dependent on Islamabad. Iran has established the pipeline infrastructure on its territory with the intent of sourcing gas from its Asaluyeh reserves, but Pakistan’s infrastructure still lies incomplete on its side of the territory. Designed to provide Pakistan and eventually India with Iranian natural gas, the pipeline originates in the South Pars gas field in Iran’s southern city of Asalouyeh, passes through several Iranian cities in Bandar Abbas and Sistan, and is supposed to reach Khuzdar in Pakistan and from there continue on to Multan and Karachi. Iran announced in 2011 that it had completed its part of the project, and offered Pakistan $500 million to construct the Pakistani portion, about a third of the estimated needed funds. Under enormous pressure from both the US and Saudi Arabia, however, Pakistan halted the project. India also withdrew and has been discussing an undersea gas pipeline directly from Iran, though the resumption of US sanctions against Iran has undoubtedly prejudiced those talks. Another project, the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India pipeline, is intended to bring gas from Turkmenistan to India through Afghan and Pakistani tribal regions. That project is facing challenges both in terms of funding and security. The peace pipeline could have been the answer to Pakistan’s long-term need for energy. However, Pakistan is in dire need of financial help overall and Iran lacks the ability to compete with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in this regard, especially now that US sanctions have greatly weakened its economy. Iran is still offering to fulfill Pakistan’s energy needs.

Gen. Asim Munir’s visit highlights the growing importance of bilateral relations between Pakistan and Iran, particularly in the realm of security and defense. It also underscores the commitment of both countries to address shared concerns and explore opportunities for joint efforts in maintaining regional stability. Pakistan and Iran both suffer from serious terrorism threats, especially after the evacuation of NATO forces from Afghanistan, and terrorists are using modern weapons that they left behind. Moreover, These mutual concerns have necessitated closer cooperation not only between Pakistan and Iran but also among other countries in the region to combat terrorism and ensure the security of their borders. Furthermore, it highlights that both countries recognize the importance of enhancing their defense capabilities to effectively respond to any potential security challenges in the region. This visit depicts the growing diplomacy between both states, which is positive for the stability and peace of the region. The international political forces have created fissures among the Muslim nations in the region. The Pakistani Army in cooperation with the IRGC can change the security conditions at the border between the two countries and turn them into economic borders. Iran which shares its eastern border with Pakistan and Afghanistan has troublesome relations with both countries. Tehran has been badly impacted by developments in the south-eastern province of Zahedan – the capital of Sistan province, where many IRGC have died in suicide bombings and firing since September 2022. Iran has often blamed Pakistan for the Zahedan violence, indirectly linking it to Pakistan. On the other hand instability in Afghanistan has resulted in an influx of refugees, which Iran has been actively pushing back through agreements and sometimes through force. Although, the two nations disagree on the relocation of battle-hardened Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) fighters from the Af-Pak border to Afghanistan northern and other provinces. However, this shifting of fighters is conducive to Pakistan which hopes that deadly assaults on its security personnel will reduce. The recent progress in Pakistan-Iran relations is encouraging. However, there is still much work to be done. The two countries need to continue to enhance their cooperation in a number of areas, including defense, trade, and diplomacy. In defense: Pakistan and Iran need to work together to combat terrorism and other security threats, while in trade, the two countries can increase their trade volume and expand their economic cooperation. So far diplomacy, Pakistan, and Iran can work together to promote peace and stability in the region. Recent attacks on security personnel in Zohb and Zahidan underscore the urgent need for enhanced cooperation in counterterrorism measures. Both countries must collaborate closely to share intelligence, strengthen border security, and disrupt the networks that facilitate these attacks. The recent revival of Saudi-Iran relations is also a positive development for Pakistan. With both of its neighbors now on good terms, Pakistan is well-positioned to maintain strong ties with both countries. The three high-level meetings between Pakistan and Iran over the past three months are a major milestone in fostering enduring relations between the two countries. Gen. Munir’s trust-building visit may have the force to reverse the negative tide into a positive between Tehran and Islamabad. These interactions will help to strengthen the bonds between the two countries and pave the way for a more secure and prosperous future. By continuing to work together, Pakistan and Iran can build a strong and lasting partnership that will benefit both countries and the region.

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