Zarif’s visit to Islamabad comes at a crucial point

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5 things you need to know about Iranian FM Zarif’s visit to Islamabad
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By Taimur Shamil

The visit of Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Islamabad today, comes at a crucial point. Zarif who recently tweeted encouraging the neighbors to join hands and work for regional peace and stability, and not to rely on outsiders for security, is now visiting Pakistan. His visit comes at a crucial point when the regional and global dynamics are changing rapidly.

It is important to keep in mind that Iran’s top priority is to make the new US administration review JCPOA. A new President in the White House is probably going to increase the chances of reviewing the JCPOA that was scraped by the Trump administration. If that happens, it can change the dynamics once again in the Middle East, and probably in Iran’s favour. Having a sense of that, Zarif has utilized this opportunity to message it to regional countries, Saudi Arabia specifically. In this political setting his first visit is to Pakistan, not to forget that Pakistan backed Iran in the JCPOA deal. This is important in terms of both diplomacy and optics.  

Zarif’s Visit to Pakistan:

Zarifs visit to Pakistan is a considered to be important in the backdrop of several developments taking place in the region. The new US administration is likely to continue the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan. This would mean new challenges and opportunities for Iran as well other major regional players like Pakistan.

Pakistan and Iran are the key stake holders in Afghanistan. The recent rise of ISIS attacks in Afghanistan has once again raised alarms in Pakistan and Iran who see the security situation in Afghanistan worsening with each passing day. The dramatic rise of ISIS and TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) is a concern for both.

In the back drop of FM Zarif’s visit to Pakistan, here are the five things to be kept in mind

1- Regional Security Approach:

Regional countries like Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China have long pitched for regional security approach. The need for ‘regional security’ stems out of the need for a comprehensive approach to regional issues; security, connectivity and trade.  

Pakistan and Iran have stepped up the collaboration in this regard. The visits made by the foreign minister Zarif’s several to Pakistan as well as visits paid by the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa to Iran have been instrumental in re-setting the strained relations and reevaluating the opportunities for Pakistan and Iran

2- Common Threats:

There is no major conflict between Pakistan and Iran but irritants like insurgent groups operating in and along Pakistan-Iran border is a worry for both. ISIS’s rise and mergence with other terrorist groups in the region could be detrimental for Iran and Pakistan who see the ISIS as a major spoiler to Afghan peace and regional stability. A better coordination between both states in terms of counter-terrorism is one of the important agendas between Pakistan and Iran.

3- The China factor in Pakistan and Iran relations:

Although not very conspicuous, the Chinese element in the regional politics cannot be ignored. The China and Iran relations have been improving over the years. The recent decisions made by Iranian authorities to oust India out of the major railway and gas exploration projects is a significant development, further isolating India from the important projects and engagements in the region. This has also brought Pakistan and Iran closer as both benefit from the Chinese approach to the regional connectivity.

4- Pakistan’s diplomatic role in the Middle East:

Pakistan has been actively pursuing its diplomatic role in the Middle East. Pakistani authorities have been trying to bridge the gap between Saudi Arabia and Iran who have a long history of distrust. Successful or not is another debate but Pakistan’s significant role in the Middles east, with Iran and Saudi Arabia, cannot be ruled out. Pakistan is likely to continue its diplomatic outreach to mend the ties between the rivals.   

5- Common goals in Afghanistan:  

The security situation in Afghanistan is precarious. As the US prepares for the next president in the white house, Afghanistan plunges into chaos. The rise in violence is unprecedented. ISIS continues to target the civilian population. The recent attacks by ISIS on maternity ward in Kabul, Sikh temple, study centers and Kabul University has been devastating for the Afghan population. The attack on the Madrasah in Pakistan’s Peshawar city, claimed by ISKP (IS Khorasan chapter), has called for a reset to regional security approach. Pakistan and Iran’s bottom line in Afghanistan is to get rid of the spoilers and undercut ISIS’s influence in the region.