Beyond doubt

Gen Janjua’s Tehran visit reveals ‘obstacles’ in cooperation

Beyond doubt
Pakistan and Iran continue to see each other through the prisms of India and Saudi Arabia respectively – something that is preventing them from moving forward in their bilateral ties.

This was the conclusion one could draw from this week’s Pakistan-Iran national security advisers dialogue in Tehran on border security, terrorism, and other transnational crimes.

Pakistani national security adviser Lt Gen (r) Nasser Khan Janjua met his Iranian counterpart Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Interior Minister Abdol Reza Rehmani Fazli, Iranian military chief Maj Gen Muhammad Bagheri, and other officials during his three-day trip.

The visit was particularly important because it was the first by a high ranking Pakistani official to Tehran since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s Islamabad trip in March, which was marred by the capture of Indian spy Kulbhushan Yadav (who was at some point based in Iranian city of Chahbahar). Gen Janjua’s visit took place on the invitation of the Iranian government, but by noting that Nawaz Sharif had allowed it, the Prime Minister’s Office revealed the trip had blessings from the very top.

At the very outset of the talks, Mr Shamkhani shared the Iranian assessment with Gen Janjua about what they perceived to be the biggest irritant in the relationship – the Saudi factor. The Iranians were not only concerned about the strong Saudi influence in Pakistan, but they accused the Kingdom of using terrorist networks to destabilize the Pakistan-Iran border.

Alluding to Saudi Arabia, Iranian media reports quoted Shamkhani as saying that a third country was “dispatching weapons and hiring terrorists to create insecurity on Iranian borders with Pakistan and affect Iranian relations with Pakistan.” The reports made it clear that he was accusing Riyadh of being a spoiler by noting that it was secretly developing ties with Israel – a reference to the recent visit by a retired Saudi general to Israel that was widely reported in international media.

Border security has been a major Iranian concern and was, therefore, the main agenda item on the NSAs’ meeting. Iran has suffered major attacks on its security forces and law enforcement agencies in the region bordering Pakistan. Additionally, over the past couple of months, Tehran claims to have thwarted major terrorist plots and made several arrests.

Defense Minister Khawaja Asif, talking to reporters after a meeting of the Senate Defense Committee, said border security was the main issue at the security dialogue.

The Pakistani side, meanwhile, is concerned about Indian presence in Iran and alleges that Indian spies are using Iranian territory for carrying out subversive activities here. They point out the capture of Kulbhushan Yadav as evidence of India running a spy network from Iran. Moreover, Indian involvement in the development of Chahbahar port and trade corridor linking it to Afghanistan is viewed as a security threat here.

The Iranian government had explained to Pakistan, through a letter sent to Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, that it had warned India against misusing its soil against Pakistan, but Islamabad’s concerns continue.

Were the top security officials able to move beyond the reiteration of suspicions and concerns during their two rounds of talks? Probably not.

While Shamkhani noted in his media comments ground had been prepared for moving forward in combating terrorism together, Gen Janjua’s remarks were more cautious, as he called for “removing obstacles” in the way of cooperation – a reference to the mutual distrust and reservations.

The NSA was probably not impressed with Shamkhani’s verbal assertions that Iran saw “a developed and stable Pakistan as the guarantee of its own security” and “the two countries posed no threat to each other”.

Interior Minister Fazli proposed in his meeting with Gen Janjua the setting up of a joint border security commission for effective implementation of a 2013 bilateral accord that provides the basis for cooperation in preventing and combating organized crime and activities posing threat to national security of the two counties, in addition to jointly fighting terrorism.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Islamabad


Twitter: @bokhari_mr