Analysis & Opinions - World Politics Review

Iran and Pakistan Navigate Regional Rivalries as They Push for Deeper Ties

| Apr. 06, 2018

In mid-March, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif traveled to Islamabad for a three-day visit, heading a 30-member Iranian delegation. During talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Zarif pledged to increase bilateral trade between Iran and Pakistan from around $1.16 billion today to $5 billion by 2021. They also discussed other areas of cooperation. In an email interview, Payam Mohseni, the director of the Iran Project at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, discusses how Iran and Pakistan’s mutual desire for a deeper relationship must contend with regional rivalries. 

WPR: What is the state of Iran’s ties with Pakistan today, and what is driving Iran’s desire to improve them?

Payam Mohseni: Iran generally has cordial diplomatic relations with Pakistan. While bilateral trade between the two is modest, both countries have expressed a desire to boost trade over the next few years. Iran exports electricity to Pakistan, and has also had plans for a major gas pipeline to Pakistan and India, known as the “Peace Pipeline.” But the pipeline has stalled for various reasons, including changes to market conditions since it was first proposed in the 1990s.

There have been more recent signs of Iran’s interest in enhancing its relations with Pakistan, in part because of larger geopolitical shifts and the increasing closeness of China and Pakistan. As a prominent Iranian politician recently stated, “Iran, China and Pakistan should form a triangle of cooperation.” Iran’s foreign policy slogan since the 1979 Islamic Revolution—“neither East nor West, but the Islamic Republic”—may be shifting toward a growing preference for “East” over “West.” 

With U.S. President Donald Trump’s bellicose stance against Iran and the uncertainty looming over the Iran nuclear deal, there is now a growing desire in Iran to create stronger ties with powers such as Russia, China and Pakistan. Even if the nuclear deal remains in place for the foreseeable future, Iran will view an “East”-leaning approach as a way to balance against relations with America, and perhaps Europe, that may become more tense. 

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Mohseni, Payam.“Iran and Pakistan Navigate Regional Rivalries as They Push for Deeper Ties.” World Politics Review, April 6, 2018.

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