As Shia Iran is mending its ties with the Sunni world with the help of China, Pakistan, a key player in the game, is drifting apart from Tehran.
Iran has been making significant diplomatic and military overtures towards Pakistan since 2021. Tehran has been sincere and persistent towards resolution of major issues with its eastern neighbour ranging from issues of cross border terrorism to improvement in economic and military relations.
But with Pakistan drowning in its own misery created by the failure of the hybrid regime, the resultant political and economic chaos, Islamabad’s efforts to bolster its relationship with Tehran have come to naught.
In the bilateral relations, while Iran has always shown a more mature approach from the time Pakistan was created, Pakistan’s approach has always been that of an unreliable neighbour. Pakistan continues to blame Iran for cross border terrorism and smuggling while Iran has suffered more due to cross border attacks, attacks on Shias in Pakistan and illegal human trafficking network operating in Pakistan.
The Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline Project illustrates the meltdown in the bilateral relationship. The gas pipeline project, conceived in 2008, was formally signed by the Presidents of both the countries in 2009. The Iranian NIOC and the Pakistan ISGS were the nominated entities to execute the project and accordingly signed the Gas Purchase and Sales Agreement (GSPA).
While Iran was required to construct a pipeline from Assaluyeh till its border with Pakistan (covering a distance of nearly 1200 km), Pakistan was required to construct within its territory, the section of the pipeline from Makran coast to Nawabshah, a stretch of mere 750 km. Until 2012, Pakistan had not even acquired the land for the project.
Tired of Pakistan’s double dealings, Iran’s National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) issued a “Seller Termination Notice” and “Material Breach Notice” to Pakistan in 2019. On Pakistan’s continuous pleas, Iran again relented and agreed for amendments in GSPA while withdrawing its Material Breach notice. The new agreement by both sides was signed on September 5, 2019 with a clause of extending the limitation period for claims to 5 years.
With the extended period nearing in March 2024, there has been no attempt by Pakistan on implementation of the project. On the other hand, it appears keen to project Iran as the culprit while it is busy attempting to engage with French legal counsels to fight a legal battle. Iran, on its part, has already completed 900 km of the pipeline portion and invested approximately $2 billion in the project.
On Iran’s insistence, Pakistan conveniently blamed the US for sanctions on Iran which resulted in banks refusing funding for the project.
In December 2012, Iran again approached Pakistan and offered financial assistance for the project under a G2G cooperation format. However,Pakistan’s double-faced approach
resulted in the failure of the cooperation. Pakistan blamed Iran for the failure terming it as “unilateral withdrawal” from the agreement.
Pakistan leaders including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto have been engaging with Iranian leaders, but the efforts are more towards circumventing the issue and expressing helplessness rather than addressing it. In such a scenario, Iran has no other option other than to enforce legal penalties on Pakistan.
Likewise, Pakistan’s Intransigence on the High Seas has irked Iran no end. In recent years, Pakistan Naval ships and maritime vessels have been displaying aggressive behaviour especially while dealing with Iranian fishing boats. In a recent case, one Iranian fishing boat was forcefully stopped by Pakistan’s PMSS Hingol at the Gulf of Oman. under the pretext of inspection. The Iranian vessel was boarded by the armed personnel of PMSS Hingol. The Pakistan Navy personnel harassed and intimidated the fishermen subjecting them to inhuman treatment. The mobile phones and food of the fishermen were confiscated while the Captain of the Iranian fishing vessel was physically assaulted by the Pakistan Navy personnel. The fishing vessel was also deliberately damaged by the Pakistan Navy. Iran took serious umbrage to the incident and Pakistan Naval Attache to Iran, Captain Rashid Khurram, was summoned to the Iranian Foreign Office.
Such errant behaviour on the part of Pakistan has caused a slow but inevitable drift with Iran. (TPMM)