TEHRAN – Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari who traveled to Tehran Tuesday has told Kayhan International that the new government in Islamabad seeks close relationship with Iran. His two-day visit, he said, helped the two sides take stock of their “excellent” relations and identify new areas for cooperation. The top Pakistani diplomat sees the future of bilateral ties as “bright”. Here follows the excerpts of his exclusive interview with us:
What is the aim of your visit to Iran? What are the topics of discussions?
Pakistan and Iran are close neighbors and friends. The centuries-old fraternal bonds between our peoples are rooted deep in religious, historical, linguistic and cultural commonalities.
This is my first visit to Iran after appointment as Foreign Minister and is aimed at not only reaffirming the warm political relations between our two countries but also setting forth a forward trajectory for the future.
The agenda of my discussions with Iranian leadership included bilateral matters and regional issues with a special focus on enhancement of economic cooperation through border markets, barter trade and regional connectivity.
How does the new Pakistani government see the future of bilateral ties with Iran?
The coalition government in Pakistan is desirous of a robust and close relationship with Iran. The visit helped in taking stock of our excellent bilateral ties and in identifying new areas for cooperation. My meetings with the Iranian leadership were focused on further deepening and broadening bilateral cooperation across diverse fields.
Pakistan and Iran enjoy close collaboration and cooperation in multilateral fora such as ECO, OIC, UN and NAM. Both countries have convergent positions on core issues such as Islamophobia, Palestine and Jammu and Kashmir.
In my view, the area that requires major attention is our bilateral trade. Our current volume of trade is not commensurate with our political relations. With operationalization of MoU on barter trade and border sustenance markets, we would be able to make headway in enhancing bilateral commercial exchanges. Boosting economic opportunities for our people is an important endeavor for both our countries.
Relations between Pakistan and Iran are propelled by myriad institutional mechanisms. Both sides are committed to strengthening bilateral ties through established joint platforms such as Joint Trade Committee (JTC), Bilateral Political Consultations (BPC), and Joint Economic Commission (JEC).
Regional connectivity is essential to strengthen people-to-people contacts, enhance transit trade and ensure economic security for our two nations.
The future of our bilateral relations is bright. I am confident that by working closely in all areas of mutual interest, we can ensure a peaceful and stable region focused on pursuing economic goals for the prosperity for our two peoples.
How is the barter mechanism in Pakistan-Iran trade working? Is there any plan to expand it?
Agreement on barter trade mechanism between the two sides is a significant step to expand bilateral trade and economic activity along the bordering areas.
Pakistan has incorporated barter trade mechanism in its Import and Export Regulatory Framework and we understand that Iran is also taking the necessary measures for its early implementation.
Both countries are working closely for effective and early implementation of barter trade agreement which would improve trade activity along the border areas and help in curbing illegal smuggling of goods.
How likely is a long-term partnership agreement between Iran and Pakistan?
As evident from our excellent historical account of bilateral relationship that extends to multilateral forums as well, the partnership between Pakistan and Iran has flourished over the past many decades.
Both countries will be celebrating 75 years of establishment of diplomatic relations in 2022. We have been the pioneers, along with Turkey, in realizing the vision of regional economic cooperation by establishing ECO.
Pakistan believes in a long-term strong and meaningful bilateral partnership with Iran in all areas of mutual interest.
We are neighbors and share a long border of peace and friendship. We have common concerns, face joint challenges, and share mutual interests. Friendly cooperation and collaboration is the best way forward to address our concerns and fulfill our endeavors aimed at bringing peace and prosperity to our people and the region.
Is there any cooperation between Pakistan and Iran on helping Afghanistan return to stability?
Pakistan has been coordinating with Iran on the situation in Afghanistan.
We must continue to work together to strive for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan. Both countries are members of Six Plus Neighbors Dialogue on Afghanistan and cooperate closely in this context.
Afghanistan is facing dire humanitarian and economic crisis. Being immediate neighbors our two countries would be the first to be impacted by the looming economic collapse. It is, therefore, important that we continue working together to provide assistance to the people of Afghanistan and ensure that international community should play its constructive role to provide economic and humanitarian relief to the people of Afghanistan.
Security in Afghanistan is directly linked with security of neighboring countries and beyond. Therefore, engagement with the Interim Afghan Government is a necessity.
We have converging concerns and interests in Afghanistan. The foremost of our mutual concerns is to ensure that the Afghan soil is not used against any other country.
We have common interest in promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan to prevent mass refugee outflow in neighboring countries. Addressing the issue of narcotics trade and transnational crime is also a joint interest for Pakistan and Iran.