DAWN - 04 August 2023
Pakistan, Iran chalk out five-year trade plan
By Iftikhar A. Khan
Pakistan and Iran on Thursday chalked out a five-year trade cooperation plan aimed at doubling trade volume to $5 billion, prioritising removing trade impediments and finalising a free trade agreement.
The new plan has been devised while Iran Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian is on a two-day visit to Pakistan, having reached Islamabad on Wednesday night at Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s invitation.
“I am confident that the steps we are taking today will chart the course for a long-term durable economic partnership between our two countries in the months and years ahead,” Mr Bhutto-Zardari told the media in a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart after the two leaders met on Thursday.
Mr Bhutto-Zardari said the two sides had agreed to prioritise operationalising the five remaining border markets by the end of the current year.
He said Pakistan and Iran had decided to repatriate all the prisoners as per the provisions of existing agreements between the two countries.
An agreement was also reached to set fishermen from the two countries free and waive off any fine imposed by authorities of both countries for the release of their vessels, he said. He added that the two sides would exchange the lists of prisoners to put this understanding into practice expeditiously.
He said the grave human rights situation in India-held Kashmir also came under discussion during the meeting and thanked the Iranian leadership for its “firm and consistent support to the legitimate cause” of the people of the valley.
Referring to the joint inauguration of the Mand-Pishin border marketplace and Gabd-Polan electricity project by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the Iranian president in May, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said this was not merely a bricks-and-mortar project.
“It was an affirmation of our collective commitment to find collaborative solutions for the betterment of our two peoples,” he said. “We consider this a first step towards strengthening our multidimensional cooperation, especially in the economic domain. Today, countless schools, hospitals and households in Gwadar are run on electricity provided by Iran.”
He said proposals for expanding cooperation in trade and economy, energy and culture and arts were underway.
He said Pakistan and Iran enjoyed a complete convergence of views on all issues of mutual interest. “We believe that our prosperity and development is firmly intertwined with peace and stability of our neighbourhood and the region,” he said.
Regarding the situation in Afghanistan, both sides agreed to continue their active engagement to advance peace and stability in the neighbouring country to promote the well-being and prosperity of Afghan citizens.
They also agreed to continue their cooperation to counter Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred.
“There has been an unfortunate series of Islamophobic acts and events across Europe, and not just isolated events but repeated and premeditated provocations. In my view, these are not only hate speech but would endanger provoking violence,” Mr Bhutto-Zardari said.
‘Afghan situation to impact neighbours’
In his remarks, the Iranian foreign minister emphasised the enhanced bilateral cooperation in economy, trade and tourism.
He said both countries were committed to increasing the bilateral trade to $5bn and agreed to set up a special economic free trade region along the common border points.
Mr Amir-Abdollahian said the two countries have decided to take immediate steps for releasing fishermen and their vessels.
Emphasising the completion of the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline, he said the project would serve the two countries’ national interests. “We stand ready to see this gas pipeline completed, finalised and operationalised as soon as possible,” he said.
He said both sides discussed solving existing banking and financial problems between the two countries.
Calling for support to the people of Afghanistan, he said any situation in Afghanistan would impact the neighbouring countries of Pakistan and Iran. Therefore, under any circumstances, it was the religious and humanitarian responsibility to extend support to the people of Afghanistan.
He expressed concern about the United States and some Western countries continuing to arm Ukraine, warning that supplying arms to either side would only lead to more killings and destruction.
Prime Minister Sharif also met Mr Amir-Abdollahian and reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to strengthen relations with Iran in diverse fields, state broadcaster Radio Pakistan reported.
The report said the premier underscored the need to focus on enhancing cooperation in the economic domain, pointing out that Economic Cooperation Organisation was “uniquely placed” to play this role.