Iran-Pakistan Relations: Political and Strategic Dimensions

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Iran-Pakistan Relations:
Political and Strategic Dimensions
Shah Alam
Iran-Pakistan relations have had a distinct characteristic over the past five decades and Islamabad’s clandestine transfer of nuclear technology and materials to Iran underlines its significance. Political and strategic imperatives have formed the basis of their close relationship despite divergence of interests and political outlook on regional and global issues. Both the countries have tried to reconcile the differences and consolidate their ties. Iran’s concerns regarding the perceived dangers of containment by the US, the challenges flowing from developments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the need to ensure balance of power with Saudi Arabia and earlier Iraq, and its concerns about the sectarian violence in Pakistan have deeply influenced the vitality of Iran-Pakistan relationship. This paper traces the evolution of Iran-Pakistan relations and argues that the politico-strategic contours of the South-West Asian region will be shaped as a result of divergent developments in Iran and Pakistan – Iran’s improvements in ties with India and Pakistan’s relations with the US.

Pakistan’s political and strategic significance for Iran began with its emergence as an independent state following the Partition of India in 1947. Iran was the first to extend recognition to the new State. It established diplomatic relations with Pakistan in May 1948, and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan visited Iran in May 1949. The Shah of Iran was the first head of state to pay a State visit to Pakistan in March 1950 and in the same month, a Treaty of Friendship was signed. With the emergence of Pakistan as an independent State in 1947, India lost its territorial contiguity with Iran that it had shared for centuries and it could be said that Pakistan emerged not only geographically between Iran and India but also became one of the major determining factors in Iran-India relations.

Despite Shia-Sunni divisions, Islamic identity became an important factor in shaping the Iran-Pakistan relationship, especially after the Islamic Revolution in Iran Strategic Analysis, Vol. 28, No. 4, 2004. * Revised paper received on © The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses December 20, 2004 Iran-Pakistan Relations 527

in 1979. It was, however, a convergence of strategic goals facilitated by the Anglo- American alliance through much of the Cold War years that laid the foundation for a positive Iran-Pakistan relationship. The convergence continued through the post- Islamic Revolution period with the shared antipathy to the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan further binding the two States.

The break-up of Pakistan in December 1971 convinced Iran that its eastern flank should be stable and its territorial integrity should be maintained.1 With the emergence of Bangladesh as a separate State, the ‘two nations’ theory received a severe blow and questions even arose about whether the residual West Pakistan could hold together and would remain a single country. The events of December 1971 brought significant perceptional changes in Tehran’s ruling elite and among Arab States regarding Pakistan. Iran was affected because Pakistan was an immediate non-Arab Muslim neighbour and both countries had toyed with the idea of a confederation in the 1960s.

With the Islamic Revolution and the end of Iran’s close ties with the US, relations with Pakistan remained largely stable owing to their common concern about developments in Afghanistan, and the cooperation that they had built in nurturing anti-Soviet forces in that country through the 1970s, especially after the left-wing Saur Revolution April 1978 and the Soviet intervention in December that year. With the end of the Cold War, an entirely new environment in the Gulf dominated by the US emerged, giving shape to a new pattern of behaviour between the two countries. The deepening Iran-Pakistan defence cooperation, especially in...
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