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Pakistan Reader# 714, 23 January 2024

IRAN-PAKISTAN CRISIS UPDATE



Pakistan and Iran to end diplomatic stand-off

Rohini Reenum

In Focus
Pakistan and Iran to end diplomatic stand-off
On 22 January, The Express Tribune reported that Iran and Pakistan have mutually decided to end their diplomatic stand-off amidst a week of tensions and allow their respective envoys to resume their duties later this week. This latest development came after the foreign ministers of the two countries engaged in their third telephonic conversation of the week. A joint statement issued by both countries revealed that the Iranian Foreign Minister is all set to visit Pakistan on 29 January in lieu of the invitation extended by Pakistani Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani. Official sources have revealed that the two countries would “decide the future course of action and work on a new mechanism to prevent the recurrence of events of the last week.” The focus will also be on how to address the root cause of the problems between the two. This is important because even though both countries “friendly and brotherly” relations, there are irritants and underlying issues that need to be addressed. (Kamran Yousaf, “Pakistan, Iran envoys to resume duties,” The Express Tribune, 22 January 2024)
 
Pakistan needs a multifaceted approach in Balochistan to counter Iranian influence
On 22 January, an article in The News International written by written by Jan Achakzai discussed the dubious role played by Iran in Pakistan’s Balochistan province and the ‘balancing act’ that Pakistan must follow to counter Iran’s “shadowy” influence in the region. The official narrative is one of mutual support in tackling terrorism arising out of cross-border militant outfits. However, a deeper analysis paints a complicated picture.  Pakistan and Iran share a long border with Balochistan accounting for approximately 900 kilometres. Iran’s approach to Balochistan has been contradictory: It cracks down heavily on the Baluchi militants in its Sistan-Baluchistan province while allegedly provides financial support and acts as a safe haven for the Baloch militant groups of Balochistan. Some recent attacks in Ketch, Noshki, and Panjgur support the existence of this tacit support provided by Tehran. Some important Baloch militant outfit leaders like Dr. Allah Nazar are suspected to have found safe haven in Iran. The porous border between the two countries has also exacerbated the problem with easy movement of militant groups. The author suggests that openly hostile aggression against a neighbor is “untenable” and Pakistan must create “a nuanced response that effectively neutralizes Iran’s proxy wars and soft power tactics without escalating tensions into open conflict.” For this, he suggests increasing its “strategic presence” in Balochistan, keeping open its diplomatic channels, addressing “rampant smuggling” on the border and bringing on board regional countries against these groups by strengthening regional cooperation. (Jan Achakzai, “Iran’s ‘shadowy’ influence in Balochistan and precarious balancing act for Pakistan,” The News International, 22 January 2024)
 
Iranian attack in Balochistan has benefitted Pakistan
On 22 January an article in The Express Tribune has argued that recent Iranian attack in Pakistan’s Balochistan province followed by Pakistan’s retaliatory attack has proved beneficial for Pakistan on several fronts. First, it has demonstrated that Pakistan will retaliate adequately and swiftly to a provocation even if it is by a friendly country like Iran. Second, it has delivered a strong message to its other neighbours like, India, that Pakistan will not tolerate any “misadventure” on the eve of general elections. Third, it has provided the establishment with an opportunity to “restore its public image” amidst its fight with a political Party. (Kamran Yousaf, “Iran attack: blessing in disguise for Pakistan?,” The Express Tribune, 22 January 2024)

Can China play mediator between Iran and Pakistan?
On 20 January, an article in The Express Tribune highlighted the role China can play in easing tensions between Pakistan and Iran amidst the recent crisis. China has also offered to mediate between the two countries in the aftermath of the Iranian attack in Pakistan. In this regard, on 18 January, Beijing’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning had stated that if both parties agreed, China was “willing to play a constructive role in de-escalating the situation.” China shares a deep historical relationship with both countries and “Pakistan and Iran are well-positioned in Beijing’s long-term plans to reshape regional geopolitics in its own interests.”  Pakistan and China have described their relationship as “deeper than oceans, higher than mountains, sweeter than honey, and stronger than steel.” The former also plays an important role in the latter’s Belt and Road Initiative. According to Rand Corporation, China has played a major role in arming Iran, helping to modernize its military hardware. Both countries have also deepened trade ties in recent years. Sameer P. Lalwani, a senior expert on South Asia at the US Institute of Peace (USIP) told AFP that “Beijing possesses some credibility to press the leaderships of both countries for cooler heads to prevail.” However, the article also mentions that Beijing’s recent foray into mediation between Arab states and Israel following Israel-Hamas conflict “has yielded little results.”(“How China could help cool Pakistan-Iran tensions,” The Express Tribune, 20 January 2024)
 
Iran and Pakistan continue to trade through the border despite tensions
On 20 January, Dawn reported that despite the ongoing tension between Iran and Pakistan, trade between the two countries continued as usual. Both countries have kept their borders open despite accusing each other of violating their respective airspace and sovereignty. Makran Commissioner Saeed Ahmed Umrani stated that “Trade activities are continuing along the border towns including Taftan, Gwadar, Kech, Panjgur, and Washuk,” and asserted that no complaints have been received regarding any closure from the five bordering districts. The Pakistan Customs authorities in Taftan also informed that their offices remained open on the Taftan border and trade continued. The deputy commissioner of Panjgur, Mumtaz Khetran, further stated that trade activities continued as usual through the Chidgi border with Iran. (Saleem Shahid, “Border trade with Iran remains unaffected,” Dawn, 20 January 2024)
 
NSC ratifies move to de-escalate the situation with Iran
On 19 January, a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) was convened in light of Iran’s cross-border attack in the country. The committee which is the country’s top body dealing with security and foreign policy, ratified “the move towards reducing tensions between Pakistan and Iran” and emphasized “a commitment to addressing mutual security concerns.” The meeting was attended by caretaker ministers of defence, foreign affairs, finance, and information. Other participants included the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and the chiefs of the Army, Navy, and Air Staff, and the heads of intelligence agencies.The meeting was chaired by Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar.
A statement issued by the prime minister’s office after the meeting stated that “The forum (NSC) expressed that Iran is a neighbourly and brotherly Muslim country, and existing multiple communication channels between the two countries should be mutually utilised to address each other’s security concerns in the larger interest of regional peace and stability.” The forum reviewed the security situation at the border and the country’s preparedness in dealing any such violations of its sovereignty. The committee also reiterated its right to retaliate with “the state’s full force,” if required. The call for de-escalation and emphasis on mutual cooperation is a dramatic shift from calls for retaliation and unilateral responses to security threats arising from cross-border terrorism. (Baqir Sajjad Syed, “Pakistan resolves to lower tensions with Iran,” Dawn, 20 January 2024)

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