Iranian FM leaves Pakistan with little more than promise of moral support

Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif with General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Army Staff at the army's headquarters in Rawalpindi, 24 May 2019. ( ISPR photo)
Updated 26 May 2019

Iranian FM leaves Pakistan with little more than promise of moral support

  • Mounting tensions between Tehran and Washington are threatening to blow up into an all-out conflict
  • Pakistani foreign minister assures Iran ready to work with all sides to lower regional tensions

ISLAMABAD: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif left Islamabad Friday evening after a two-day visit in which Pakistan said it was ready to work with all sides to help lower mounting tensions between the Islamic Republic and the United States, though experts believe Islamabad can offer Tehran little more than moral support. 
Zarif arrived in Islamabad on Thursday night, ahead of next week’s emergency Arab League meeting summoned by Saudi Arabia over escalating tensions in the Arabian Gulf region.
“Foreign Minister Qureshi conveyed that Pakistan stood ready to work with all sides to help lower tensions and preserve peace and stability in the region,” the Pakistani foreign office said in a statement on Thursday night. “He also emphasized that Pakistan did not favor a conflict and believed that all sides should exercise maximum restraint and work in a spirit of easing the tensions.”
The United States pulled out of an agreement between Iran and world powers a year ago that limited Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting economic sanctions. This month tensions have risen sharply following US President Donald Trump’s decision to try to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and beef up US military presence in the Gulf in response to what he says are Iranian threats.
“Any miscalculation or accident could escalate the tensions to a dangerous level,” the foreign office statement said, quoting Qureshi.
Britain, France and Germany, which signed the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, along with the United States, China and Russia, are determined to show they can compensate for last year’s US withdrawal from the deal, protect trade and still dissuade Tehran from quitting an accord designed to prevent it developing a nuclear bomb.
But Iran’s decision earlier this month to backtrack from some commitments in response to US measures to cripple its economy threatens to unravel the deal, under which Tehran agreed to curbs on its uranium enrichment program in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions.
Speaking about the nuclear deal, the Pakistan foreign minister said Pakistan supported the plan and “noted the efforts of the other parties to the Agreement to salvage the deal.”
“Faithful implementation of obligations by all parties was vitally important,” he said in a veiled reference to the US pulling out of the deal and Iran backtracking on some commitments.
Zarif also met with Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday and discussed issues of “bilateral interest,” according to a statement from the PM Office. In a statement released after Zarif called on army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the military leader was quoted as saying, “war is not in anyone’s interest and all sides need to make efforts to keep conflict away from the region.”
Shamshad Ahmad, a former foreign secretary, said the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Islamabad was part of a “consultative process” between the two neighboring countries to chalk out ways to tackle the unraveling situation in the Arabian Gulf.
“We are geo-politically linked with Iran, and if something bad happens to Iran, Pakistan will automatically feel its consequences,” Ahmad told Arab News. “Javad Zarif is here to explain Iran’s position and take the Pakistani leadership into confidence over the recent regional tensions.”
Ahmad said the timing of Zarif’s visit was “very important” just days before Prime Minister Khan is due to visit Saudi Arabia on May 31 to participate in a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) body.
“The situation emerging in the Gulf is very serious not only for Iran, but also for the whole region,” he said, “But Pakistan can only extend moral support to Iran in the current scenario. We have our own limitations and international obligations to abide by … [we] cannot risk falling into the trap of US sanctions.”
This month, Pakistan said it had informed Iran in writing that it could not execute a $7 billion Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project as long as Tehran was under a United States sanctions regime, driving the final nail in the coffin of a project that was conceived in the 1990s to connect Iran’s giant South Pars gas field to India via Pakistan.
Tehran formally issued a notice to Islamabad in February this year, saying it was moving an arbitration court against Pakistan for failing to lay down the pipeline in Pakistani territory in the timeframe stipulated in the bilateral agreement. Pakistan has until August this year to legally respond to Iran’s notice and settle the issue through negotiations.
Relations between Iran and Pakistan have been strained in recent months, with both sides accusing each other of not doing enough to stamp out militants allegedly sheltering across the border.
During Friday’s meeting between the Pakistani and Iranian foreign ministers, they spoke about ways to improve ties, including discussions on how to increase bilateral trade, facilitate people to people contact, open new border markets and crossing points, and enhance security in their frontier regions.

India says ready to sign Kartarpur agreement with Pakistan on Wednesday

Updated 21 October 2019

India says ready to sign Kartarpur agreement with Pakistan on Wednesday

  • The project is a rare recent example of diplomatic cooperation between the two South Asian rivals
  • New Delhi says “disappointed” by Pakistan’s decision of “levying a service fee of $20 per pilgrim per visit”

LAHORE: India has decided to sign the Kartarpur Corridor agreement on October 23, said an official statement issued by New Delhi’s External Affairs Ministry on Monday, even though it expressed its disappointment over Pakistan’s decision to levy $20 service fee per pilgrims and asked Islamabad to reconsider it.

“In view of the long pending demand of the pilgrims to have visa-free access to Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib and in the interest of operationalization of the corridor in time before the Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary on November 12, the government on Monday conveyed [to Pakistan] that India would be ready to sign the agreement on the corridor on Wednesday,” the statement said.

Pakistan is all set to open the world’s largest Sikh temple to pilgrims and the public on Nov. 9, as construction work on the Kartarpur corridor enters its final stages, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on his official Facebook page on Sunday.

The visa-free border crossing from India to Kartarpur in Pakistan will be inaugurated just ahead of one of Sikhism’s most sacred festivals, and the 550th birthday of the religion’s founder, Guru Nanak on Nov. 12.

“Pakistan is all set to open its doors for Sikhs from all across the globe, as the construction work on the Kartarpur project enters final stages and will be open to the public on 9th November 2019,” the Prime Minister said on Facebook.

He added: “World’s largest Gurdwara will be visited by Sikhs from across India and other parts of the world.”

However, India’s official statement on Monday said it was “a matter of disappointment” that Pakistan continued “to insist on levying a service fee of $20 per pilgrim per visit.”

The Kartarpur project is a rare recent example of diplomacy between the two South Asian rivals, who came to the brink of war in February this year. In August, relations were further inflamed when India flooded its portion of the disputed Kashmir valley with troops, imposed a communications lockdown and revoked the special legal status of the territory.

Since then, diplomatic relations between the two countries have been virtually non-existent, with Pakistan recalling its envoy from India and banning bilateral trade.

But for the Sikh minority population in India’s northern state of Punjab and elsewhere, the diplomatic overture from Pakistan will come as a relief. The community has long sought easier access to the temple in Kartarpur, a village just 4 km over the border in Pakistan, and which otherwise requires a lengthy visa and travel process.

Instead of visas, Sikh and other pilgrims will now be given special permits to access the shrine, with online registration from the Indian interior ministry live on Sunday.

Indian Punjab’s Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh, has invited the leaders of all Indian political parties to join him to cross the border to the Gurdwara for the opening ceremony.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the Indian side of the corridor but it is yet unclear whether he will cross into Pakistan following the event.

Indian pilgrims will pay Pakistan $20 to use the corridor, which includes roadways, a bridge over the Ravi River and an immigration office, with up to 5,000 Indians to be allowed access daily.