Tehran – Zarif arrived in the Pakistani capital on August 30 on a two-day official visit. He is the first foreign dignitary to visit Islamabad after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party won the July 25 general election.
During the meeting, the Iranian diplomat called for an expansion of bilateral, regional and international ties between the two sides and stressed the need for closer cooperation on border security, cooperation between Chabahar and Gwadar ports, border markets, banking transactions, and establishing a tariff system.
For his turn, the Pakistani minister expressed his government’s unequivocal support for Iran’s position on its troubled Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly known as the ‘nuclear deal’, with the West, and urged parties other than the U.S. – which is pulling out – to remain committed to it.
In another meeting, Zarif held talks with Imran Khan. The Pakistani prime minister recalled the “inseparable bonds” connecting Pakistan and Iran together, and said that during his government he would make all efforts “to cement these relations in various areas to the benefit of both countries.”
Iran has doubled down on efforts to improve their relations with the new government in Pakistan since Khan’s election victory. In his congratulatory message, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stressed that the two countries are “the strategic depth” of each other and need to strengthen their ties.
On August 14, Iran celebrated Pakistan’s Independence Day in an unprecedented manner, displaying large banners along major highways in Iranian cities and on electronic screens throughout the public transportation systems.
Both countries are facing deteriorating relations with the United States. In May, the Trump administration announced its withdrawal from the JCPOA and later re-imposed tough sanctions on Iran. On September 1, the Pentagon announced that the U.S. military has made a final decision to cancel $300 million in aid to Pakistan, citing Islamabad's perceived failure to take decisive action against armed groups in the country.
“Due to a lack of Pakistani decisive actions in support of the South Asia Strategy the remaining $300 [million] was reprogrammed,” Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Kone Faulkner said, adding that the Pentagon aimed to spend the $300 million on “other urgent priorities” if approved by Congress.
He said another $500 million in Coalition Support Funds was stripped by Congress from Pakistan earlier this year, to bring the total withheld to $800 million.
Suspending Coalition Support Funds was part of a broader move that was announced by President Donald Trump in January when he accused Pakistan of rewarding past assistance with “nothing but lies & deceit.” The Pentagon’s decision showed that the United States, which has sought to change Pakistani behavior, is still increasing pressure on Pakistan’s security apparatus.
Pakistan has received more than $33 billion in US assistance since 2002, including more than $14 billion in CSF, a U.S. Defense Department program to reimburse allies that have incurred costs in supporting counter-insurgency operations. Pakistan could again be eligible next year for Coalition Support Funds.
After winning the elections, in an interview Iran’s Fars News Agency, Pakistan’s New Prime Minister Imran Khan said his government will expand all-out cooperation with Iran and reconsider its relations with the United States.
Iran is trying to expand its trade and banking ties with Pakistan to minimize the impact of U.S. sanctions on its economy. The main spheres of trade and economic relations between Iran and Pakistan are gas and electricity, infrastructural cooperation, financial assistance and commercial exchanges.
Iran and Pakistan have already agreed to enhance trade to $5 billion in the next five years. Iran's export items to Pakistan are iron ore, iron scrap, dates, detergents, transformers, chemicals, bitumen, polyethylene and propylene, while export items of Pakistan include rice, fresh fruits, meat and cloth.
Iran has already completed the construction of its segment of a gas pipeline, which runs 900 kilometers (559 miles), however Pakistan has fallen short of constructing its 700 km (435 mi) segment. The 2,775-kilometre Iran–Pakistan gas pipeline, known as the Peace Pipeline, which is an under-construction, will deliver natural gas from Iran to Pakistan. The two countries are also developing two major ports in respective countries, Chabahar Port and Gwadar Port.
Both have recently agreed to boost defense ties, enhance cooperation on border security and regional issues, and jointly manufacture military hardware. In July 2018, the top military officials of Pakistan and Iran also agreed to cooperate on military educational programs, pilot training, military drills and more.