Iranian president holds talks in Pakistan to mend bilateral ties

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has held talks with Pakistani leader Shebaz Sharif in Islamabad, in what experts call a “significant” visit aimed at mending ties after the neighbours traded deadly cross-border strikes earlier this year.

Prime Minister Sharif’s office on Monday said the pair had a “vibrant discussion” on advancing bilateral relations specifically in trade and communication and also “agreed on the necessity for joint efforts by both countries to combat terrorism”.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry also released photos of top diplomat Ishaq Dar meeting with Raisi, saying in a statement that the pair “discussed regional and global developments and affirmed commitment to peace and constructive dialogue”.

Before leaving Tehran, Raisi had said the “discussions with the government of Pakistan will be on the border issues between the two countries”.

The three-day visit follows tit-for-tat missile strikes in January in the region of Balochistan, which straddles the two nations’ porous border.

Tehran carried out the first strikes against an anti-Iran group inside Pakistan, with Islamabad retaliating by hitting “militant targets” inside Iran.

Both nations have previously accused each other of harbouring militants in the border region.

Middle East tensions

Raisi’s visit is an “opportunity to put the relationship back on track and to repair the damage that was done” in January, said Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani diplomat and foreign affairs analyst.

Pakistan and Iran have had a history of rocky relations despite several commercial pacts, with Islamabad being historically closer to Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Their highest profile agreement is a stalled gas supply deal signed in 2010 to build a pipeline from Iran’s South Fars gas field to Pakistan’s southern provinces of Balochistan and Sindh.

Despite Pakistan’s dire need for gas, Islamabad has yet to begin construction of its part of the pipeline, citing fears over US sanctions — a concern Tehran has rejected.

Pakistan said it would seek waivers from the US, but Washington has said it does not support the project and warned of the risk of sanctions in doing business with Tehran.

Faced with the possibility of contract breach penalties running into the billions of dollars, Islamabad recently gave the go-ahead for the construction of an 80-kilometre stretch of the pipeline.

SOURCE: REUTERS