By Afshin Majlesi

Iran-Pakistan ties on rise but still below expectations: ambassador

October 3, 2017

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Tehran’s ambassador to Islamabad says ties between Iran and Pakistan are on the rise but still far behind the existing potentials.

Mehdi Honardoost faults “lack of information” about each country’s capacity for such a situation.

“One of the factors which have kept ties between Iran and Pakistan below the expectations is the lack of information and enough knowledge about each other,” Ambassador Honardoost says in an exclusive interview with the Tehran Times as a five-member Iranian media team visited Pakistan from Sept. 18 to 23.

In what follows the text of the interview has been given:

Q: The Public opinion in Pakistan is in favor of Iran. How can Iran use this potential to deepen ties?

A: The fondness of the people of Pakistan is a treasure that makes it easy to exploit the existing capacities in the relationship. In fact with the removal of hurdles which had been imposed due to external factors on bilateral ties, mutual fondness as an active motive will work and we will witness further boost and expansion of ties in all the dimensions.

“Economic potential between Iran and Pakistan is not limited to bilateral ties only; currently Pakistan is working on CPEC with Chinese investment and Iran has announced  its readiness to participate in this project by providing energy and exporting of technical engineering services.”

Q: Why as two great neighbors - Iran having 80 million population and Pakistan about 200 million - the volume of trade ties is too low?

A: There are lots of commonalities between Iran and Pakistan. Culture, literature, history, civilization, religion, custom along with a 900-kilometer joint border are factors which create unbreakable bonds.

I believe that one of the factors which have kept ties between Iran and Pakistan below the expectations is lack of information and enough knowledge about each other. The subject is noticed by all strata and classes of the two countries. Definitely, increase in trade volume between the two countries is possible through interaction among the chambers of commerce and business community of the two countries. This is also possible by increasing the information. In other words, boosting of ties in all spheres is subject to better knowledge and this identifies the role and position of media, which can be effective in providing information to the people.

The embassy, by having knowledge of the subject, sent a delegation of the media persons to Iran last year and already an Iranian media delegation has visited Pakistan.

Besides aforesaid subject, international sanctions have been an effective factor in low level of bilateral trade. In the period after the signing of the JCPOA (a landmark nuclear deal clinched between Iran and six world powers in 2015) and efforts made in this regard, a 35 percent increase has been witnessed in trade ties but still lack of banking ties with Pakistan is an important impediment to increase business ties.

After the signing of the JCPOA, Iran reestablished banking ties with a number of countries, however banking ties with Pakistan has not yet been reestablished. But efforts are being made to resume banking ties and I hope soon this objective will be achieved with the cooperation of the Pakistani side.

Q: Have you yourself  visited the border lines to closely witness the steps that Pakistan had to take to prevent hooligans use the Pakistani soil for vicious acts along the border with Iran?

“Two sides are working on a roadmap to remove problems of banking transactions to facilitate trade between the two countries; the removal of this irritant is also in its final stages and I hope it will be removed soon.”

A: Yes, I have made a detailed visit to the border areas although the overall purpose of the visit was to get firsthand information about all the issues related to the border including border crossing points, border markets and existing problems and finding out solutions.

Q: What are the main areas of cooperation? Agriculture, energy, transportation? Please explain.

A: Iran and Pakistan, in view of existing commonalities, enjoy vast potential for cooperation in all fields. In political area, they can cooperate bilaterally, regionally and internationally especially in efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan.

As it has been mentioned, there are various economic areas like energy, trade, transportation, etc., which have vast potential to boost up.

Iran has the capacity to enhance exports of goods like propane and butane (LPG), bitumen, dried fruits and other gas and petroleum derivatives as important export items to Pakistan.

Businessmen of the two countries can cooperate with each other in various sectors like mines, gemstones, holding bilateral trade exhibitions, agriculture, tourism, medicine and medical industries and hopefully resolving the remaining problems regarding opening L.C. By removing trade irritants, trade volume between the two countries will start increasing.

Q: As ambassador what steps have you taken to increase ties between the two countries?

A: Ties between Iran and Pakistan are very important; so effective steps have been made to further boost ties in all spheres.  One indicator of boost in relations is the number of visits by authorities including political, economic and military officials.

“There are lots of commonalities between Iran and Pakistan. Culture, literature, history, civilization, religion, and custom along with a 900-kilometer joint border are factors which create unbreakable bonds.”

During my tenure of responsibility in Pakistan, H.E. Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, twice visited Pakistan by leading high level delegations. The first visit was bilateral and the second visit was to participate in the ECO summit in Islamabad. In the first visit of the president, seven MoUs in the fields of economy, business, science, culture, health and university were signed. In the second visit besides negotiations regarding bilateral issues, role and place of regional and international cooperation between the two countries were strengthened.  Reciprocally and in order to boost bilateral ties, Prime Minister of Pakistan (Nawaz Sharif ) twice visited our country and  these visits led to significant achievements. 

In this framework we have constant meetings between the heads and ministers of the two countries; one typical example is the recent meeting between President Rouhani and the prime minister of Pakistan on the sidelines of United National General Assembly meeting in New York.

The embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Pakistan has made efforts to boost ties in economic and trade fields. The value of trade ties has increased to around ½ billion U.S. dollars; the bulk of this figure is the share of Iran’s exports to Pakistan. On the basis of that a lot of consultations are underway to enhance the volume of trade transactions between the two countries and I believe we can achieve the target of bilateral trade up to five billion U.S. dollars.

Already, steps are being taken with all seriousness to implement the orders of the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the prime minister of Pakistan. After a reestablishment of banking channels, the speed of business between the two countries will increase.

Two sides are working on a roadmap to remove problems of banking transactions to facilitate trade between the two countries. The removal of this irritant is also in its final stages and I hope it will be removed soon. The volume of exports and imports between Iran and Pakistan during two years has been increasing; the total value of trade ties of the two countries in 2015 was just $861 million.

The said amount increased to more than 1.15 billion in 2016 and it is expected to increase more by the end of the current year. The volume of export items by Iran to Pakistan was more than $795 million and imports from this neighboring country around $365 million.

A direct flight between the capitals of the two countries (Tehran-Islamabad) has been launched with the constant efforts and follow ups by the embassy, which is an effective factor in expanding more interaction between the businessmen of the two countries and enhancing bilateral transactions.

Enhancing bilateral cooperation in road and railway transit and maritime and air transportation are the other programs being implemented and we have reached some agreements on these areas which will be implemented in the near future.

One of the important areas of cooperation between Iran and Pakistan is energy sector. Iran is a country which is rich in fossil energy resources and also has a high potential for export of electricity. On the other hand, Pakistan requires energy to meet its internal needs for industrial and urban utilization. At the moment, Iranian portion of IP Gas Pipeline is complete and it is expected the Pakistani side will take necessary steps to complete the project on its soil. At the moment electricity exports to Pakistan are 76 MW and we have announced readiness to increase it to 100 MW and in a further step to 1000 MW.

Economic potential between Iran and Pakistan is not limited to bilateral ties only; currently Pakistan is working on CPEC (China–Pakistan Economic Corridor) with Chinese investment and Iran has announced its readiness to participate in this project by providing energy and export technical engineering services.

Expanding of medical and cultural cooperation, exchange of journalistic and arts troupes and to activate border commission are within this framework.

  PHOTO: Iran's Ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi Honardoost (right) talks to the Tehran Times reporter at the premises of the embassy on September 20, 2017.

AFM/PA

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