Why does Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi visit Pakistan? | Politics news

Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi is visiting Pakistan on a three-day visit to discuss regional and bilateral relations, days after Iran and Israel carried out attacks against each other, threatening to expand the Gaza war into a regional conflict.

Raisi is scheduled to hold talks with Pakistan's senior leadership, including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, as the two neighbors seek to mend relations after mutual missile attacks in January.

Local media reported that Raisi will also meet General Asim Munir, the Pakistani army chief, who wields enormous political and economic influence in the South Asian country.

What is the trip agenda?

Raisi arrived in the capital, Islamabad, on Monday, as the two neighbors aim to strengthen economic, border and energy ties.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran, in line with its neighborhood policy… is interested in strengthening relations with Pakistan, and during this trip, various issues including economic, trade, energy and border issues will be discussed with the Pakistani government,” a statement said. According to what the Iranian Presidential Office announced on Monday.

In a statement issued on Sunday, the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs called for improving bilateral relations.

“The two sides will have a wide-ranging agenda to further strengthen Pakistan-Iran relations and enhance cooperation in diverse fields including trade, connectivity, energy, agriculture and people-to-people communications,” the statement said.

She added that the Iranian President will visit major cities, including Lahore and Karachi, and will focus on bilateral and trade relations.

Musharraf Al-Zaidi, a partner at consultancy firm Tadlab and a former advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Al Jazeera in a written statement that Raisi’s trip is “an attempt to secure expressions of support from Islamabad and Rawalpindi.” [military leadership] As for Iran – as it stumbles deeper into a dangerous conflict with Israel.

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Al-Zaidi added that Iranian strategic thinkers realize that Pakistan is suffering from an internal political crisis and a growing set of economic drivers that limit the scope of movement regarding Pakistan's participation in the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

What is the status of Iranian-Pakistani relations?

Iran and Pakistan have a history of troubled relations, with each accusing the other of failing to rein in armed groups.

Border tensions escalated in January when Iran launched air attacks across the border in Pakistan, killing two children. Iranian official media said that the attack targeted two bases of the Jaish al-Adl armed group. Pakistan responded by launching a missile into Iranian territory and recalling its ambassador from Tehran.

But the two neighbors decided to calm tensions, as Tehran sent its chief diplomat to Islamabad to mend relations. The two countries agreed to confront the “threat of terrorism” together, especially in the border region. Before Raisi's visit, Tehran and Islamabad talked about combating “terrorism.”

“At that time, Pakistan had a caretaker government. What the Iranians indicated was that after the new government arrived, there might be a visit to repair the relationship and rebuild trust,” said Muhammad Faisal, a doctoral researcher at the University of Technology Sydney who specializes in Pakistani foreign policy.

Why is the Pakistan-Iran relationship vital?

Foreign policy analysts in Pakistan have supported re-engagement with Iran despite border tensions.

“Pakistan has a troubled border with India as well as Afghanistan. Establishing a normal and stable relationship with Iran was of utmost importance to Pakistan, and remains so,” veteran Pakistani diplomat Maleeha Lodhi told Al Jazeera in the wake of the border tensions in January.

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Islamabad and Tehran aim to boost bilateral trade, which currently amounts to more than $2 billion.

Faisal told Al Jazeera that there is significant informal trade between the two countries, including liquefied petroleum gas and crude oil. He added that Iran also provides electricity to Balochistan province and other border areas of Pakistan.

In May 2023, Sharif and Raisi opened the first border market at the Mand-Pishin border crossing.

Moreover, the two neighbors have close cultural and religious ties, with tens of thousands of minority Shiites from Pakistan going to Iran every year to perform Umrah.

However, Tadlab's Al-Zaidi said shared cultural ties and long borders — 900 kilometers (559 miles) — had not translated into people-to-people exchanges and deep trade ties.

“Instead, trade mostly falls outside the official scope and travel is limited to religious tourism,” he added.

On the eve of his trip, the Iranian president set a goal of achieving $10 billion in bilateral trade, saying that the level of economic relations between the two countries is not equal to the level of political relations. Last August, they set the bilateral trade target at $5 billion.

A plan to build a pipeline to export Iranian natural gas to Pakistan has stalled amid opposition from the United States, which has imposed a wide range of sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear program.

Faisal, of the University of Technology Sydney, said the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline may be discussed during the talks.

How did Pakistan respond to the tensions between Iran and Israel?

On April 14, one day after the Iranian attacks on Israel, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling for de-escalation. The statement considered the events “the repercussions of the collapse of diplomacy.”

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“This also underscores the ‘serious’ repercussions in cases where the UN Security Council is unable to fulfill its responsibilities to maintain international peace and security,” the ministry’s statement said.

She added that Pakistan stressed the need to make international efforts to prevent further hostilities in the region and to achieve a ceasefire in Gaza.

“It has now become extremely urgent to stabilize the situation and restore peace. We call on all parties to exercise maximum restraint,” the statement concluded.

Pakistan does not recognize Israel, and does not have direct channels of communication with it.

“In recent years, there has been increasing speculation about the pressures exerted by the Gulf Cooperation Council countries [Gulf Cooperation Council] Pakistan demanded changes to its policy towards Palestine. Al-Zaidi said: “There is no indication that such a change is on the table.”

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