Iranian minister visits Pakistan but support from Islamabad likely to be limited

Foreign Minister of Pakistan Shah Mahmoud Quraishi greets his Iranian counterpart Jawad Zarif in Islamabad. Zarif’s visit came days before the expected arrival of US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in Pakistan. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad)
Updated 31 August 2018

Iranian minister visits Pakistan but support from Islamabad likely to be limited

  • Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is first foreign dignitary to visit Pakistan since new government took over
  • His trip comes days before the US secretary of state is due to arrive in Pakistan, on Sept. 5

ISLAMABAD: Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif concluded a two-day official visit to Islamabad on Friday. While Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi publicly declared the country support for Iran’s “principled stance” over the 2015 nuclear deal, after the withdrawal of the US from the agreement, analysts said that Islamabad might not be in a position to provide Tehran with the support it has promised.

In addition to Qureshi, Zarif, the first foreign dignitary to visit Pakistan since the new government took over, also met Prime Minister Imran Khan, National Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser and army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa.

“Welcoming his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi noted the potential for strengthening the already strong bilateral relationship,” said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Referring to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal between Iran, the P5+1 countries (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the US and Germany) and the EU, which was signed in 2015, Qureshi said that Pakistan supports “Iran’s principled stance.”

US President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the agreement this year and announced the re-imposition of economic sanctions that had been lifted as part of the deal. However, experts believe that Pakistan might be unable to support Iran as it has promised.

“Islamabad does not have that political clout, and Pakistan’s own relations with the US are hanging with a fragile thread that could break any moment,” said geopolitical analyst, Qamar Cheema.

During his meetings, “Zarif discussed the expansion of cooperation with Pakistan in different fields of common interest, including economy and social relations,” the Foreign Office said. In addition, security collaboration along the troubled Pakistan-Iran border, military cooperation and counterterrorism were among the key issues he discussed with the Gen. Bajwa.

Zarif’s visit came days before the expected arrival of US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in Pakistan on Sept. 5. US-Pakistan relations remain frosty due to a deep and longstanding trust deficit, but mindful of the country’s alleged influence over the Taliban, the US has not imposed sanctions and continues to engage with its estranged ally despite the strained relations.

However, the administration in Washington has kept Islamabad under mounting pressure, in an attempt to force it to comply with its demand for action against the militants who have consistently thwarted American peace efforts in Afghanistan.

Pakistan shuts Taftan border after coronavirus kills six in Iran

Updated 17 min 9 sec ago

Pakistan shuts Taftan border after coronavirus kills six in Iran

  • Flights to and from Iran unaffected despite deaths
  • Health emergency declared in border districts 

KARACHI: Pakistan has sealed its Taftan border and stopped pilgrims from traveling via the crossing to Iran after six coronavirus deaths were reported in the neighboring country, officials told Arab News on Sunday.
Afghanistan has also suspended travel to the neighboring country as fears across the region continued to grow over a jump in new coronavirus infections.
There are several shrines in Iran which are frequented by a large number of Shiites from Pakistan. Hundreds of people access the Taftan border crossing between the countries on a daily basis.
Pakistan has stopped all movement from crossing points, launched screening procedures and introduced additional patrols along the border “until the situation is under control,” Mir Zia Ullah Langove, home minister of southwestern Balochistan province, said.
“We are trying to take every possible precaution,” he told Arab News, adding that these were efforts being taken by the provincial government, with assurance from Prime Minister Imran Khan that the federal government would also be extending its help.
The move to seal the border follows Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan’s decision to declare a health emergency in all provincial districts bordering Iran on Saturday. But reports of the coronavirus deaths have had no impact on flights to and from Iran.
“The staff of the health ministry is already present at the airports and a passenger is allowed entry only after clearance of health declaration,” Abdul Sattar Khokhar, Civil Aviation Authority of Pakistan spokesman, told Arab News as he dismissed reports of a temporary halt on flights to Iran.
“There is no reality in reports that flight operations to Iran have been stopped. We had neither stopped flight operations to and from China and nor will it be stopped to any other country.”
Imran Zarkon, who is chief of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, said 1,000 masks had been distributed in border areas and a temporary hospital tent with 100-beds had been set up to deal with an emergency as part of preventive efforts.
“Qom is the most affected area of Iran where the pilgrims go, so if there is any possibility of virus coming to Pakistan it will be through Taftan and authorities here are on high alert,” he told Arab News.
But these steps have failed to console the people of Balochistan, with some expressing concern about illegal movement along the porous border.
“Iran shares over #1000 KM long porous border with #Balochistan #Pakistan, #coronaravirus deaths are alarming news for the region,” Sanallah Baloch, a Balochistan lawmaker, tweeted on Saturday. “Daily 100s of people cross these borders without formal procedures, region is poverty-stricken with no medical facility.”
In a statement released Sunday, Pakistan’s Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri said he had discussed the matter with Iranian officials to safeguard Pakistani nationals visiting the country.
Qadri also spoke to Dr. Zafar Mirza, state minister for health, on the deployment of medical teams to Taftan town along the border.
Iranian health authorities said 28 people were being treated for the virus in at least four different cities, including Tehran.
Both Afghanistan and Pakistan share long, porous borders with Iran that are often used by smugglers and human traffickers, while millions of Afghan refugees currently live in the Islamic Republic — raising fears that the virus could easily spread over the border.
“To prevent the spread of the novel #coronavirus and protect the public, Afghanistan suspends all passenger movement (air and ground) to and from Iran,” the office of the National Security Council of Afghanistan said in a statement posted on Twitter.
A provincial official in Pakistan and the country’s Frontier Corps also confirmed that the country had sealed the land border with Iran.
Earlier Sunday, Iran reported eight deaths from the novel coronavirus, the highest toll of any country outside China, as the supreme leader accused foreign media of trying to use the outbreak to sabotage a general election.
The latest three deaths Iran reported on Sunday were among 15 new confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus, bringing the overall number of infections to 43 and fatalities to eight — the highest death toll outside of China, the epicenter of the epidemic.
Four new infections surfaced in the capital Tehran, seven in the holy city of Qom, two in Gilan and one each in Markazi and Tonekabon, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said.
Authorities have ordered as a “preventive measure” the closure of schools, universities and other educational centers in 14 provinces across Iran from Sunday.
Desperate and jobless Afghans have crossed the porous border with Iran for years in search of work to support their struggling families back home.
But hundreds of thousands of Afghans have returned home in recent years as US sanctions have battered the Iranian economy.
(With AFP)