Mr. Saadain Gardezi - Editor & Director Research Global Affairs presenting Global Affairs to H.E Seyed Mohammed Ali Hoseini - Ambassador of I.R Iran to Pakistan
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In Conversation with H.E Seyed Mohammed Ali Hosseini – Ambassador of I.R Iran to Pakistan

An Exclusive Interview by Global Affairs

Q: Excellency, as the Ambassador of Islamic Republic of Iran to Islamic Republic of Pakistan what is your vision regarding your responsibility?

A: Due to the priority of neighbors and Islamic countries in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran and also the government of Dr. Ra’isi, as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, I have a heavy responsibility to strengthen and deepen interaction and cooperation between the two Muslim countries and neighbors in various political, economic, cultural, religious, etc. areas at different bilateral, regional and international levels. I am the Iranian ambassador to Pakistan, but at the same time, as a Muslim, I feel responsible to my Pakistani brothers and sisters and I am interested in serving the people of both countries. I represent my nation in Pakistan, but at the same time I sincerely represent the people of Pakistan in my country. I feel proud of working in this Muslim country.

 

Q: Pakistan and Iran enjoy cordial and brotherly bilateral relations. How do you see them in terms of our historical developments, current engagements, and the prospects to further strengthen them in the future?

A: Iran and Pakistan enjoy historical relations and deep cultural, religious and linguistic bonds. Throughout history, both countries have supported each other at different historical and political times. Iran was the first country to recognize the government of Pakistan after its establishment, and Pakistan was the first country to recognize the Islamic Republic of Iran after the Islamic Revolution. The two states always support each other’s stances in regional and international organizations, and both governments are determined to expand interactions. The diplomatic delegations of the two have regular mutual visits. I hope that in the near future we will see the improvement of relations between the two countries in all political, cultural and economic fields.

 

Q: Excellency, talking about the severe issue in our immediate neighbor, Afghanistan. With United States gone, keeping the political ground of Afghanistan in a stalemate and the threat of IS-K already underway, Pakistan and Iran also host the largest Afghan refugees in the world. There were also flurry of meetings between Pakistan and Iran to discuss Afghanistan’s future amid the emerging situation. What kind of a spillover effect do you think the situation in Afghanistan can have on both Iran and Pakistan? Moreover, is there any convergence in the strategies of both countries to deal with the issue? Moreover, are there any bilateral agreements that have been proposed to tackle the issues of refugees?

A: Iran and Pakistan are the first countries to be affected by the developments in Afghanistan, and therefore insecurity in Afghanistan is considered as insecurity in Iran and Pakistan, and both countries will benefit from stability and development in Afghanistan.

One of the main reasons for the current situation in Afghanistan is the policies of the US regime over the past twenty years in this country and also the irresponsible withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan, which has caused the current political, social and humanitarian situation.

Our stance is the need for an inclusive government, respect for human and women’s rights, the right to education and participation for all, including women, and the need for a greater presence of the United Nations and international organizations in Afghanistan. Iran and Pakistan have close views on the issue, and both countries’ special envoys to Afghanistan and Foreign Ministers are in close contact and discuss issues.

On the issue of refugees, Iran and Pakistan have had the greatest impact over the past four decades. The overall resolution of this issue requires the serious involvement of international organisations and member states of the international community, because the consequences of the new chapter can affect everyone, and this requires, above all, stability, peace and security inside Afghanistan.

 

Q: There is also the issue of cross-border insurgency and smuggling, however, despite this, both countries are eager to resolve and overcome the issues. Many promising proposals and reforms have been made in the past. Are there any more proposals under consideration in this regard?

A: Iran and Pakistan have long shared threats in border areas, including smuggling and the activities of extremist separatist groups and terrorists. Given the importance of maintaining the 900 km border between the two countries as a border of peace and friendship, it was suggested that joint mechanisms be established for continuous consultation and exchange of information in the border areas. Thus, the management of the border area in order to maintain peace and control of the area, is jointly implemented, which, thank God, has significantly reduced security problems at the border. Of course, the fencing on the border, which was done with the agreement of the two countries, has also been effective in better control and management of the border area. Also, several effective measures have been taken to reduce smuggling and legalize trade in border areas, including the opening of two new border crossings, which were welcomed by border residents. The opening of six border markets to help the border residents’ livelihoods and organize cross-border trade has also been agreed upon by the Iranian and Pakistani authorities and is being seriously pursued by both countries.

 

Q: The issue of smuggling has also bought into spotlight the promising reforms of bilateral trade agreements. Earlier this year, Iranian Consul General in Peshawar Hamid Reza Ghomi announced Iran will ink free trade agreement (FTA) with Pakistan. The reforms had some really promising proposals, which included to facilitate the Pakistani businessmen and issued visas to them within a short span of time, suggestions of cementing trade relations with Mashhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry to take benefits from each other’s experience and boost trade activities between the two countries was also suggested. The implementation is expected within next 3 months. How do you believe will this benefit the two states? What proposed projects are being planned in this context?

A: Improving trade relations between the two countries in the form of free trade and creating facilities for businessmen regarding visas or even expanding trade between the Chambers of Trade in Mashhad and Pakistan are among the issues that, if implemented, will have a good impact on the development of relations.

Three key issues, if addressed, can help improve trade relations and dramatically increase them, as well as drastically reduce the issue of trafficking:

  1. Removing trade barriers and organizing theatrical trade and supporting the private sector in the two countries;
  2. Elimination of high tariffs and reform of cumbersome regulations;
  3. Removing customs barriers such as allowing Iranian trucks to enter all over of Pakistan, transit of Iranian goods to China through Pakistan, development of border markets, establishment of a joint customs gate (where two countries carry out customs actions in one place instead of each party to do it separately). This can help improve business conditions.

 

Q: In April 2017, central banks of both countries signed an agreement for a “payment arrangement”. According to this agreement, the central banks authorized some banks in their respective countries to accept transactions in yen or euro to facilitate trade transactions. Unfortunately, due to non-availability of settlement mechanism, the proposal is still hanging on the loop. When can we expect this issue to be resolved? And has there been any progress in this regard?

A: The payment agreement was not implemented for two reasons: first, it was only valid for one year. Second: the unilateral and bullying US sanctions against Iran created problems in the implementation process. But Pakistan can engage in banking with Iran by joining a non-Swift financial system, such as the one offered by Russia, to which Iran has also joined.

At the same time, it is no longer acceptable to raise the issue of sanctions for lack of progress in economic relations. On the one hand, with the approval of The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as a document of the UN Security Council, all multilateral and international sanctions related to the nuclear issue against Iran have been lifted or suspended, and on the other hand, Iran’s other neighbors has good trade relations with us using legal methods. Despite about a thousand kilometers of common border and strategic political relations between Tehran and Islamabad, the volume of trade between the two countries is not more than one and a half billion dollars a year. This figure is very small compared to Iran’s trade with other neighbors such as Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan and Turkey. The national interests of the two countries demand that more efforts be made to strengthen and develop trade and economic cooperation between Tehran and Islamabad.

 

Q: Let’s talk about some good news, finally after a decade of delay as a result of administrative mismanagement from Pakistan; the Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul (ITI) freight train finally took its first departure this month. How do you see it will benefit the two countries? What future prospects do you see as a result of the initiation of this train service?

A: The Islamabad-Tehran-Istanbul (ITI) freight train has been activated in the framework of transit and transportation cooperation between the member countries of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO). This freight train offers new options for exporters and traders to access Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. Compared to the 35-day sea transport between Pakistan and Turkey, this rail line saves time and money and leads to the development of trade between the three countries. By expanding the scope of work of this railway line, passenger trains can also be activated in this route, which will help the development of tourism and public relations in the region.

 

Q: Iran is already providing electricity to Gwadar, Turbat and Makran regions of Pakistan. An offer was made by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, stating that Iran’s electricity imports to Pakistan can be expanded to 3000 MW. As you might be aware, the fast developments being done for the CPEC project, and undisrupted electricity supply is an urgent need for Pakistan, are there any developments being done currently for the offered 3000 MW electricity?

A: Of course, China and Pakistan need electricity to complete the CPEC project. Iran and Pakistan have an agreement to expand electricity exports known as the Polan-Gwadar project, in which the Iranian side has extended power transmission lines to the border. The Pakistani side is also looking for a suitable solution to finance the project.

 

Q: With respect to BRI, On March 27, 2021, Iran and China signed a 25-Year Comprehensive Strategic Partnership cooperation agreement, which will greatly benefit all three countries. The publicized 18-page draft envisioned intense cooperation between Iran and China in oil production, transportation and security; railway, road and port infrastructure development activities in Iran, which are important for China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and the use of national currencies in international banking activities. How do you see this will have a lasting impact in the betterment and development at national and regional level for Iran, and how would it benefit the bilateral relationship between Pakistan and Iran?

A: With the start of the implementation of the 25-year strategic and comprehensive cooperation agreement between Iran and China, we can hope for economic improvements. This agreement is a general and strategic document that must be reached in each of the specific agreements that are being drafted. If each project is finalized and implemented in various fields, including strengthening international trade, infrastructure development, operation of industrial and mining units, and banking and insurance cooperation, this document will help strengthen trade throughout the region, because Iran as a regional power can better expand its interactions with other countries in the region. Pakistan can also use the improvement of Sino-Iranian economic relations to strengthen the CPEC project. As a neighbor of both countries, Pakistan can take advantage of its transit route between China and Iran.

 

Q: During the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Tehran in April 2019, Iran and Pakistan pledged to work jointly on regional development projects. In December 2019, one of the Iranian Official in Pakistan reaffirmed Iran’s commitment to join the CPEC. In July 2020, you also mentioned Tehran’s interest in the BRI and the CPEC. What initiatives can be taken by the two countries in this context? Just like Gwadar Port, Chabahar Port also has huge potential in the coming future. What mutual benefits and promising future prospects do you see with regards to the collaboration between these two ports, and how can Iran benefit from CPEC?

A: Iran has repeatedly stated its desire to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with all its capabilities and facilities. China has endorsed Iran’s proposal, and its Ambassador to Pakistan has said it expects Iran to join the CPEC soon. Pakistan has also considered Iran’s offer a good step. We expect this to expand our trade relations with Pakistan, and we believe that trade should not be limited by other factors. Iran can have significant cooperation with CPEC. Iran’s appropriate infrastructure in the field of transportation, rich energy resources, as well as Iran’s progress in the field of technology can help develop the capacity of CPEC. We do not look at CPEC as just a commercial and economic project. CPEC can help develop peace and friendship in the region and can solve many problems in the region.

Q: Iran became a permanent member of SCO on 17th September, 2021, and soon after Tehran has announced their “Look to the East” policy, according to which they plan to minimize the influence of West and have a fresh start with the East. How do you think will this “Look East Policy” will be beneficial for the region? What benefits can Iran benefit from the prospects of the rising powers of the East?

A: I believe we need to diversify our relations with the world. In foreign policy, we believe in balanced and dynamic diplomacy. Here I should explain about the “politics of looking towards East”. Eastern politics does not mean severing our ties with the West, because we believe in cooperation and expansion of relations with East and West. These relationships must be based on mutual respect and common interests. This is good for us and the region. Meanwhile, in the new government, the position of neighbors and Islamic countries in the development of foreign relations has been highlighted.

The SCO is also a good regional mechanism for strengthening regional convergence and promoting the development of countries in the region. Iran’s membership in this organization, as an institutional mechanism of regional convergence, will promote bilateral and multilateral relations of the Islamic Republic of Iran with each member of this organization. In addition, the presence of Iran as a major country and a regional power in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization will make this organization stronger.

 

Q: Iran is an oil rich country, while Pakistan is dependent on oil imports to meet its domestic needs. Moreover, in the recent past we also witnessed rising oil prices in Pakistan. Are there any possibilities or proposals for exporting oil to Pakistan? Has there been any talk with the Pakistani officials in this regard? If not, what arrangements do you think can be made in this context?

A: During the visit of Dr. Zarif, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Pakistan last year, one of the proposals for economic and trade cooperation was to expand the export of energy carriers to Pakistan. Also, one of the priorities of the Iranian Ministry of Oil, along with attracting the participation and investment of international oil companies, is cooperation with countries in the region. We have made good proposals in the field of oil and gas exports, which are more cost-effective than current energy import contracts of Pakistan. For example, Iranian gas will be two-thirds cheaper than imported gas from some countries in the region.

It is worth noting that the energy carrier trade is not sanctioned and other Iranian neighbors, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Turkey, import energy carriers from Iran.

 

Q: Excellency, Millions of Pakistanis travel each year to Iran for Ziaraat; As many people are not aware on the visa procedure and requirements, they rely on third party agents for their visa procedures, and often times they get scammed by these imposters. It would be really great if a mechanism is put in place that bridges the gap between Pakistani Citizens and the Embassy. What initiatives in your opinion, can be taken by the embassy in this regard?

A: Individuals who intend to travel to our country individually or as a family for pilgrimage can contact the consular section of the embassy after completing their application in the electronic visa system (at www.evisa.mfa.ir) and uploading the documents. Then applicants can visit our consular section colleagues in person after making an appointment. Their documents will be reviewed and they will be invited for an interview if a face-to-face interview is required. After this process, the visa is issued.

 

Q: Recently, Iran has offered to waive tariffs on export of agricultural products from Pakistan. There were also talks about exchanging Iran’s technical knowledge of floriculture with Pakistan. What new potentials does this initiative carry? How do you see the two countries can benefit from this initiation? And since the concept of floriculture is relatively new in Pakistan, Iran being an experienced floricultural country, what trade and economic benefits does the floriculture carry for a country, based upon the experiences from Iran?

A: Iran has a lot of experience in flower production and greenhouse construction, so that the largest hydroponic greenhouse in the region with a length of 15 hectares has been built in Iran, which cultivates greenhouse and vegetable products. In addition, some Iranian greenhouses are currently exporting flowers to some countries. Given that Pakistan has a better position in terms of water supply than the arid countries of its western region, especially the Arab countries; it can produce and export flowers and greenhouse products in cooperation with Iran.

 

Q: What message would you like to give to the people of Pakistan?

A: I am happy to spend my posting in Pakistan. I am proud to work in this Muslim country. I hope the people of Pakistan work together to build the future of their country. I wish for Pakistani nation a successful and bright future. As an Ambassador, I will do my best for the benefit of the two nations. I would also like to say that there are many ties and interests between the two nations of Iran and Pakistan, and the spirit of brotherhood and friendship prevails between the two nations. An Iranian poet named Malek al-Sho’arai Bahar describes this friendship as follows:

“Never assume there is a nation on the planet who loves Pakistan more than Iranians”

We have a heavy duty to maintain friendship between the two countries. We must use this friendship as a capital to strengthen cooperation in order to serve the interests of the two countries.

 

Q: How do you see Pak-Iran ties progressing in the future?

A: I think we are on the right track. I am hopeful and optimistic about the future of relations between the two countries. Although there are obstacles, I believe we can overcome them and move forward.

 

Published in Global Affairs February 2022 Edition

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Saadain Gardezi

Written by Saadain Gardezi

Saadain Gardezi is a Editor & Director Research at Global Affairs. He is a graduate in the field of Strategic Studies, from National Defence University Islamabad. He tweets at @saadain.gardezi & can be reached at saadain@globalaffairs.com.pk

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