Iran seeks to allay Chabahar port concerns

ISLAMABAD: Iranian ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi Honardost on Friday said that Chabahar port will not be a threat to Gwadar port as the two facilities will act as sister ports in future and a great source of regional cooperation, peace and tranquility.

Speaking at a Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad (ISSI) “Public Talk” on Pakistan-Iran relations, Honardoost dispelled the impression of any rivalry between the two countries in their quest to develop the two ports to provide greater platform for trade among the regional countries through connectivity.

He said the recent agreement signed between Iran, India and Afghanistan to develop Chabahar port is in no way a threat to the Gwadar port and in future, both Chabahar and Gwadar will act as sister ports, linking the region via connectivity.

“The doors are always open for other regional countries to join the venture and we are waiting for Pakistan and China,” he said, adding Iran has great cooperation with great regional counties like Russia, China and Turkey but despite great potential, the level of cooperation in trade and economy is unfortunately low as far as Pakistan is concerned.

He said though Gwadar and Chabahar have been called rivals, there was no competition between the two harbours. He also rejected the impression that Tehran’s increasing ties with New Delhi will undermine Pakistan-Iran relations, adding his country never compares its existing good neighbourly relations with Pakistan to any other country.

“We are neighbours and neighbours cannot be changed. We have good co-operative relations with all our neighbours top of which is Pakistan…India was buying our oil during sanctions period but is not our neighbour,” he added.

To a question about the recently killed Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, he rejected reports that the Taliban chief had travelled to Iran and entered Pakistan from Iran.

“Iran has never supported any terrorist group including the Taliban, though, there are countries, and how can they claim that they are against terrorism, who not only support terrorists but also provide logistic and financial support and even provide banking facilities…How could we support these guys who even killed our diplomats in Mazar-i-Sharif [in 1998 by Taliban militia],” he added.

Honardost stated that Iran will never allow its soil to be used against any country and that Iran considers all of Pakistan’s concerns as its own. He emphasised that there was no ambiguity about this stance.

Commenting on the Afghan peace process, he said Iran supports every effort which is aimed at bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan, adding Tehran believes that any development in Afghanistan has a direct impact on Iran as well as Pakistan.

“Both Pakistan and Iran support peace in Afghanistan because the two countries are taking the burden of millions of Afghan refugees and some elements don’t want peace in Afghanistan for the reason, the quest for the peace is desired by Pakistan and Iran,” he stated without naming any country or group.

“Being closed neighbours, both the countries are exposed to the developments taking place in Afghanistan and we don’t need any interference of big powers in the region,” he added. He said Pakistan and Iran are two important countries of the region sharing political and cultural ties.

“Any relationship between the two nations should be tangible: trade and economy are important components for achieving this,” he said, adding the present trade figure does not depict the trade potential both countries have.

Terming the recent visit by Iranian President Dr Hassan Rouhani as a milestone, he said it brought many issues to the forefront- most of these related to trade and businesses, adding that after the visit many channels have been activated between the two countries. He stated that in a few months, a Joint Economic Commission would meet in a new atmosphere of post-sanctions.

The Ambassador stated the Pakistan-Iran border is very important, not only with regard to trade but because it will help settle many other issues faced by the two countries, adding a better life for the people along the border was also essential. Along with cordial relations in politics and culture both countries should promote trade relations.

He went on to cite the number of projects between the countries, top of which is Iran Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project which, according to him, has the most benefits in terms of both safety and cost and will help put the economy of Pakistan on the launching pad.

He pointed out that despite criticism this project has faced, if both Pakistan and Iran are in agreement then they should go ahead with the successful completion of the IP project. He also mentioned the power transmission project and hoped that there would be an increase in power supply from 74 MW to 100MW and gradually to 3000 MW.

He also stressed the need for greater cooperation between the banking sectors of the two countries. He pointed out that both Pakistan and Iran are the two biggest Islamic countries in the region and hence have a lot of responsibilities to shoulder.

Both countries can work together for a better future not only for the better future of their respective nations but also for the entire region, he added. He stated that international terrorism and narcotics are major concerns and that international bodies should be more active for the peace and stability between Muslim countries.

He said that leaders of both Pakistan and Iran share similar views and approaches to international events and developments. He acknowledged Pakistan’s role as a wise mediator when tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran arose last year because it would have been detrimental to the region and said that regional cooperation is the only way for settling down all the matters between the two countries.

Ambassador Masood Khan, Director General ISSI, in his welcome remarks highlighted that Pakistan and Iran enjoy very strong relations, which are anchored in very strong foundations. Ambassador Khalid Mahmood, Chairman Board of Governors of ISSI, said that Pakistan and Iran share a very precious relationship one which must be valued and further strengthened. –Business Recorder