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November 10, 2017 No.
7175

Editorials In Pakistani Dailies Examine Implications Of Pakistan Army Chief's Visit To Iran To Discuss Kashmir, Gulf Crisis, U.S.


The website of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (english.khamenei.ir) prominently posted Khamenei's Kashmir statement.

On November 5, Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa arrived in Tehran on a three-day official visit. This is the first timea Pakistani army chief has visited the country in over two decades. According to a media report, the "key concern in Islamabad vis-à-vis Tehran is the growing Indian influence in Iran, which has predominantly been on the economic and trade side. There have been suspicions about India using Iranian soil for espionage in Pakistan. Tehran, meanwhile, is worried about [the] presence of terrorist groups along the Pak-Iran border that have been targeting Iranian border forces."[1]

It should be noted that on October 29, 2017, India sent a shipment of wheat for Afghanistan through Iran's Chabahar Port – a route that became operational because Pakistan has always blocked Indian goods trucks travelling through its territory to Afghanistan and Central Asia.[2] Gen. Bajwa's trip is also important in the wake of the recent developments in the Middle East, especially as Pakistan, a Sunni Islamic nation, has always been a strong ally of Saudi Arabia while trying to balance its relations with Iran.

While Pakistani foreign policy revolves around the trilateral Iran-Pakistan-Saudi axis, the Iranian balancing involves the trilateral Iran-Pakistan-India axis. Although Iran has allowed its Chabahar Port to be developed and used by India for exports to Afghanistan, Iranian leaders have also sought to keep Pakistan in good humour by issuing statements on Kashmir. On June 26, Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei, speaking at the Eid-ul-Fitr prayer in Tehran, said: "Conflicts in Yemen, Bahrain, problems in all Islamic countries, are major wounds on the body of Islam... The same is true for the people of Bahrain and Kashmir: Our people can back this great movement within the World of Islam."[3]

This was the first time in seven years that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei mentioned Kashmir.[4] Khamenei's official website english.khamenei.ir prominently played up the mention of Kashmir in Khamenei's statement (see the headline in the top image). Furthermore, within a week, on July 5, Khamenei urged Muslims to support the "oppressed people" of Kashmir. This second statement on Kashmir appeared to be carefully considered, as an Indian media report noted: "Khamenei's timing is noteworthy, as his comments came in the run-up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Israel, which is no friend of Iran's. Further, with India and Iran squabbling over a gas field, and India's tilt toward Riyadh, Indo-Iran ties are suddenly not looking too high on New Delhi's agenda."[5]

During Gen. Bajwa's three-day visit to Tehran, Khamenei seems to have assured Pakistan of his support for Pakistan's stance on the Kashmir issue. According to a Pakistani media report, "Iran's supreme leader throws weight behind Pakistan on Kashmir."[6] At a joint press conference in Tehran with his Iranian counterpart, Pakistan army spokesman Maj-Gen Asif Ghafoor, speaking on behalf of Gen. Bajwa, "thanked" Ayatollah Khamenei for his "supportive statement" on the Kashmir issue.[7] Given below are excerpts from editorials in Pakistani newspapers examining the implications of the Pakistan Army chief's three-day visit to Tehran.

"Amid The Changing International Situation, The Strong Pakistan-Iran Relations Will Be [An] Antidote To The Increasing American Influence And Bearing" 

An editorial in the Pakistani Urdu daily Roznama Express stated:[8]

"[During Gen. Bajwa's three-day visit to Tehran] Pakistan and Iran agreed on the point that they will not allow their territory to be used against each other. Matters of mutual interests came up during the meeting between Army chief Qamar Bajwa and the Iranian defense minister [Brigadier General Amir Hatami]. Lauding Pakistan's successes in the counter-terror war, the Iranian defence minister stressed the promotion of [bilateral] defence relations. During the meeting, it was agreed that Iran would erect [a border] fence, and conduct border patrolling and sharing of intelligence. In other words, as a consequence of this meeting, foundations were laid for the renewal of relations and the removal of misgivings was facilitated.

"Our historical, linguistic, religious and cultural links with the brother Islamic nation of Iran are ancient, connected, strong, and deep. It was Iran that first before all accepted [the creation in 1947 of] Pakistan. The daughter of the Persian language, 'Urdu,' is the official language of Pakistan. On the issue of Kashmir, Iran has always continued to support Pakistan in clear words and fully. Despite shared culture, language, and literature, tensions developed on the border matters due to the actions of non-state actors [i.e. Sunni militants attacking Iran] and terrorist organizations. The need of the hour was to eliminate them. Pakistan's stand in this regard is clear and forthright that it has done a lot to eliminate terrorists on its border; and now there is no existence of the safe havens of terrorists.

"In reality, the relations between Pakistan and Iran have always been good and brotherly. But the war in Afghanistan and terrorist and terror groups played a very negative role in damaging the relations. At this point, the growth of ISIS (Daesh) in Afghanistan is dangerous for the region. There is a need to defeat this threat in order to establish peace in the region, which can be done by Pakistan and Iran together. Pakistan's clear stand is that the right to declare jihad rests with the state. Pakistan-Iran border is another name for peace and friendship. Therefore, if Iran wants to expand its border defense mechanisms, Pakistan cannot have objection to it.

"Amid the changing international situation, the strong Pakistan-Iran relations will be [an] antidote to the increasing American influence and bearing. [U.S. President] Donald Trump wants to sabotage the Iran-U.S. nuclear agreement, while he wants to bring Pakistan under [the pressure of the traditional U.S. demand to] 'do more.' Therefore, betterment and strength in Pakistan-Iran relations is the need of the hour and necessary for the establishment of peace in the region."


Image courtesy: IRNA.

Pakistan Must Not Get "Bogged Down In The Ongoing Gulf Crisis, Which... Is A Proxy War Being Played Out Between Riyadh And Tehran With Tacit Backing From Washington"

An editorial in Pakistan's Daily Times observed:[9]

"The Foreign Office [in Islamabad] was quick to issue a statement saying that it is thoroughly unruffled by the newly operational India-Afghanistan trade route that goes via Iran instead of us. And so it should be, given that it is Islamabad that blocked Indian goods entering our territory. This suggests that our COAS [chief of army staff] has bigger and worse things to worry about.

"In the last week alone [before November 7], regional maneuverings have seemingly come together to turn up the pressure on Iran to near fever-pitch. Over the weekend, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned live on Saudi television, citing undue Iranian interference and assassination fears. On the same day, the Saudis claimed that the ballistic missile launched at them by the Yemen's Houthi rebels had Iranian fingerprints all over it. This is to say nothing of NATO, earlier in the week, suggesting that Tehran, along with Moscow, is arming insurgents in Afghanistan; or the CIA 'confirmation' of bin Laden's ties to the Iranian regime.

"All of which means that Pakistan needs to tread very carefully. For while it is welcome that both Islamabad and Tehran are on the same page regarding the need for a credible Afghan-led peace process next door – we would do well to ensure that we don't become bogged down in the ongoing Gulf crisis, which, in reality, is a proxy war being played out between Riyadh and Tehran with tacit backing from Washington. Pakistan can no longer afford to be collateral damage in someone else's war. Yet this is not to say that we should not be standing side-by-side with the Iranians against American warmongering. We absolutely must. And we trust Gen. Bajwa to convey our concerns with a military man's precision logic. For this is a chance for Pakistan to show that it is a mature regional player..."

"Pakistan needs to also get behind the India-Iran pipeline. This is to be built with Russian help, with Pakistani companies also said to be involved. We should remember, too, that we have friends in the neighborhood, largely thanks to CPEC [China-Pakistan Economic Corridor]. And it may even work to our advantage to have New Delhi and Tehran cooperating closely on trade. For this means that the latter will, to some extent, have India's ear. Thus can Iran do its best to urge New Delhi to take the Kashmir issue back to the UN. It doesn't matter that it is unlikely to listen as long as [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi is at the helm – for trade routes bring with them a certain leverage; and that should also include gently asking India to rethink its long-term alliance with Washington..."

"The Iran-Pakistan Border Is Likely To Need The Deployment Of More Troops [As Pakistan-Based Sunni Militants Launch Attacks In Iran]"

An editorial in the Pakistani News daily noted:[10]

"Pakistan's need to develop strong relationships with its neighbors is obvious. Both its economic and security imperatives in the short and long term require the cooperation of Iran, Afghanistan, and India. Out of these three, it is Iran that has retained the strongest relationship with Pakistan. It is good to note that this friendship is receiving the requisite attention from our side. This is the first visit to Iran by a Pakistani army chief in over two decades, which is a symbolic marker and sets out the priorities of our state. The decision to go to Iran at a time when it is engaged in a proxy war with Saudi Arabia in the Middle East is itself significant.

"The Iran-Pakistan border is likely to need the deployment of more troops, with the relatively isolated border considered a hub for unsavoury groups [i.e. Pakistan-based Sunni militants who launch attacks in Iran]. Stabilizing this border is an important task but there are questions over whether either country is willing to provide the measures required. Pakistan remains more concerned about the porous Afghan border while Iran remains engaged in the fight against ISIS. The situation in Afghanistan remains a key concern for both countries. Another key success that has come out of it is to secure a statement from Iran in support of Kashmir. Pakistan has mostly appeared isolated when taking up the plight of the Kashmiri people and this is a step in the right direction.

"Iran is likely to have also brought up the issue of the long-standing Iran-Pakistan[-India] gas pipeline as well as offered to sell electricity to ease Pakistan's power crisis – but this is a story that has long become stale. The conversation has never been serious enough, which is partly why Iran recently warned that it would be seeking damages for the non-implementation of the deal. Recent reports indicated that sanctions on Iran would mean Pakistan could not go ahead [with the gas pipeline which was expected to extend into India] – but there might be more progress on this in the future. The visit encouragingly signals a strong intention on the part of the Pakistani state to pursue better relations with Iran."

 

[1] Dawn.com (Pakistan), November 6, 2017.

[2] Livemint.com (India), October 29, 2017.

[3] IndianExpress.com (India), June 27, 2017.

[4] TheWire.in (India), June 27, 2017.

[5] TimesofIndia.com (India), July 5, 2017

[6] The News (Pakistan), November 7, 2017.

[7] Tribune.com.pk (Pakistan), November 7, 2017.

[8] Roznama Express (Pakistan), November 9, 2017.

[9] Daily Times (Pakistan), November 7, 2017.

[10] The News (Pakistan), November 9, 2017.