Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s tour to Iran has been a low key affair for the Pakistani media but it gained a hyped coverage in the Indian media as the Iranian government has always stood by the Pakistani stance on Kashmir. Moreover, the foreign minister undertook the tour at a time when Pakistan is facing the severest economic meltdown of its history. In such troubling times, Pakistan needs the support and cooperation of friendly countries, such as Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Malaysia, more than ever. Though the foreign minister’s visit to Iran was scheduled after his visits to Saudi Arabia and China, the Foreign Office scheduled Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s meeting with the top Iranian personalities, so that both countries could bring their ties and economic cooperation to new heights. He met Iranian President Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi and said “As much as I am a child of Pakistan, I am also a child of Iran”. His phrase hit the headlines of the Iranian media. That is the beauty of diplomacy. He met Iranian Foreign Minister Hussein Amir Abdullahian in Tehran and several delegations and discussed prospects for investment in the energy sector, including the import of electricity from Iran for Balochistan areas, which will help alleviate the country’s energy crisis. Pakistan and Iran have continued trade despite the US sanctions on Iran, through adopting a barter system. But the trade level has the potential to hit new heights if a mechanism for cooperation is developed.
Both Iran and Pakistan need to formulate solid strategies at both governmental and private levels to open up trade. The most important issue to be sorted out is the acquisition of Iranian gas and oil. The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline has been in limbo since 2012 when then president Asif Ali Zardari along with his Iranian counterpart inaugurated work on it. Pakistan should take up the sanction issue with the US and seek an exemption, such as India securing for buying Russian and Iranian oil and Russian missiles. The tour of Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari would hopefully open up new vistas of cooperation between the two countries. He told a presser along with the Iranian foreign minister that Pakistan and Iran have come closer to resolving major obstacles to the expansion of bilateral trade by activating the barter trade mechanism and formalizing cross-border exchanges. Such initiatives are an expression of our shared commitment to provide opportunities for better economic and trade activities, which will benefit the people of both sides. The good thing is Pakistan and Iran are on the same page on the growing Islamophobia in India, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the situation in Afghanistan. Both countries are also going to set an accord on the exchange of prisoners and more facilities for Pakistani pilgrims in Iran. It is a good sign that during the foreign minister’s visit, there have been encouraging developments between the two countries on various issues. Relations with countries need to be strengthened so that both Iran and Pakistan walk together to an era of peace and prosperity.