The evolution of Pakistan’s foreign policy in the last two years has been both rapid and positive. For decades, it has been hamstrung by the cloying dependency on particularly the Arab states in the Gulf region. Those relationships were — and still are — essentially transactional and energy-based. There is little flowing from Pakistan into the countries of the Arabian peninsula beyond migrant workers with the reciprocal outflow of their remittances. In historical cultural terms, Pakistan is more closely linked to the Aryan groups than the Arab, and our warming relationship with Iran may be seen as something of a course correction in that context.
President Dr Hassan Rouhani of Iran is making a visit to Pakistan on March 25-26. He is here at the invitation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is himself gradually emerging as having elements of statesmanship about his tenure as well as a grasp of realpolitik. We share a border with Iran unlike the Arab world, and have a range of common interests that reach far beyond our energy needs. President Rouhani’s entourage is a reflection of that. This is no mere protocol mission, a glorified photo-op; this is about doing business. The lifting of sanctions post to the nuclear non-proliferation deal reached between Iran and a basket of nations in 2015 is the key that is unlocking doors everywhere. Sanctions are not yet completely gone, and care will need to be taken with some transactions if the ire of Uncle Sam is not to be triggered. Thus it is that at least initially, trade is to be conducted in euros rather than American dollars, avoiding the need to get clearance from a US intermediary bank. There are ‘sensitivities’. Pakistan has joined — or has been co-opted, there is a lack of clarity — into the 34-nation Saudi-led coalition designed to counter terrorism. Iran was not invited. Neither Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan. Doubtless that will be discussed, as will our polite demurral of an offer to join the Saudi ground campaign in Yemen, a country where Iran has its own agenda, which is not congruent with that of the Saudis. There are interesting outcomes on the near horizon.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2016.