Pakistan and Iran will set up a joint border “reaction force” following deadly attacks on their frontier, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced yesterday after talks with visiting Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Khan said at the joint news conference with Rouhani that militant activity at the border could be a source of tension.
“The most important reason why I’m here, Mr President, is because I felt that the issue of terrorism was going to ... increase differences between our countries,” Khan said. “So it was very important for me to come here and come with our security chief that we resolve this issue.”
“We agreed to create a joint rapid reaction force at the borders for combatting terrorism,” Rouhani announced, following months of increased tensions over attacks on both sides of the frontier.
The border skirts the volatile southeastern Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchistan which has been the scene of frequent attacks on Iran’s security forces.
Khan’s visit to Iran, the first since he took office last year, comes after gunmen who Islamabad says were based in Iran killed 14 members of Pakistan’s security forces last week in its own Baluchistan province.
“The security chief will sit down with his counterpart here and discuss (security) co-operation,” Khan said, although no details were given on the joint force.
“We trust that both countries will not have terrorist activities from their soil ... we will not allow any damage to your country from our soil,” said the prime minister, who started a two-day visit on Sunday.
In March, Rouhani demanded that Pakistan act “decisively against anti-Iranian terrorists”, following a February 13 attack that killed 27 members of the elite Revolutionary Guards in Sistan-Baluchistan.
Iran has said that a Pakistani suicide bomber was behind the attack, claimed by the religious extremist group Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice), which Tehran says operates mostly out of bases in Pakistan.
On Saturday, Islamabad said it had evidence the “terrorist outfits” that carried out the attack in Baluchistan had “training and logistic camps inside Iranian areas bordering Pakistan”.
Islamist as well as ethnic Baloch separatists operate in Baluchistan, Pakistan’s poorest province.
Stressing that “no third country” could harm bilateral ties, an apparent reference to the United States and its policy of isolating Iran, Rouhani said that Tehran was ready to boost trade and business ties with Islamabad.
“In the current situation the region’s countries must decide and plan for their interests independently and directly,” the Iranian president said. “Iran is ready to meet Pakistan’s oil and gas demands ... (and) we are ready to increase (electricity) exports to Pakistan ten-fold.”
He said co-operation between Chabahar port in southeast Iran and Pakistan’s Gwadar port can be increased, and that Tehran could facilitate the construction of a railroad connecting Istanbul to Islamabad.
Chabahar, about 100km (62 miles) from the Pakistan border, is Iran’s largest port outside the Gulf and the only one exempt from US sanctions.
For his part, Khan said his visit to Tehran aimed to “find ways to increase trade and co-operation ... in energy and other areas”, noting that two-way trade was “very limited”.
However, he made no pledge on energy purchases, nor did he provide details of other economic ties.
Khan also met with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who called for the “strengthening of relations in spite of the will of enemies”.
Khamenei blamed those unnamed “enemies” for the attacks on both sides of the Iran-Pakistan border, which the supreme leader said were intended to “contaminate” relations between the two Muslim nations.
Pakistan is a close ally of the United States and Saudi Arabia, both of which have ratcheted up pressure on Iran over its alleged meddling in regional affairs.
Washington last year pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal signed by Tehran and world powers and reimposed harsh economic sanctions on the country as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign.
Prime Minister Khan is accompanied by Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari, Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Commerce Razak Dawood, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis Zulfiqar Bukhari, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services Dr Zafarullah Mirza, and Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Petroleum Nadeem Baber are all a part of the Pakistani delegation.
Khan was initially scheduled to visit Iran in January, but it was reportedly postponed due to unexplained reasons, though the Foreign Office did issue a statement highlighting that Pak-Iran relations were “marked by close historic and cultural linkages and strong people-to-people exchanges”.
The relations between the nations have, however, had a bad patch as well due to security issues along the border.
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