ISLAMABAD: Islamabad and Tehran on Monday agreed to form a ‘rapid reaction force’ to be deployed on their shared border as part of efforts to deal with the growing threat of terrorism.
The agreement was reached between the two neighbours following talks between the visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Iranian President Hasan Rouhani in Tehran.
Imran undertook a maiden trip to Iran against the backdrop of recent terrorist attacks in both the countries, something that caused a hiccup in their bilateral ties.
But talks between Khan and Rouhani appeared to have helped ease tensions as the two countries agreed on a raft of measures to deal with the problem of terrorism that has affected both in recent months.
Speaking at a joint news conference with the visiting Pakistani premier, the Iranian president announced that both countries had agreed to expand their security cooperation.
“We have agreed to expand our security cooperation in border areas and also agreed to set up rapid action force to tackle it,” Rouhani told reporters at the news conference.
Highlighting the common threat facing the two countries, Imran Khan acknowledged that some of the groups, which carried out attacks inside Iran, were operating from Pakistan.
However, he made it clear that Pakistan would not allow its territory to be used against any neighbour including Iran. He said there is a political consensus in Pakistan that terrorist groups have no place in the country.
His bold statement created some controversy back home with certain people questioning the wisdom behind publicly admitting the presence of anti-Iran groups.
The transcript issued by the foreign office later omitted the reference and said “recently 14 security forces killed in Baluchistan and Iran has also suffered from terrorist activities.”
“We will not allow any militant group to use our soil against anyone. Both countries will not allow any other to use their soil for terrorist activities. This will build confidence between us,” Imran Khan said.
Relationship between the two countries was tense since terrorist attack in Iran killed scores of Iranian Revolutionary Guards. While Tehran suspected Pakistan based groups for being behind the attack, Islamabad also lodged a protest with Tehran after the last week’s attack on a coastal highway in which 14 security personnel were brutally gunned down by an alliance of Baloch terrorist outfits.
A day before the premier’s visit, Pakistan had said the Ormara attack was originated from Iran.
Official sources familiar with the discussions in Tehran told The Express Tribune that the Prime Minister Khan did raise the issue with the Iranian leadership with a hope that such groups would not be allowed to carry out attacks in future.
“Issues of the security of borders were discussed. In the past some terrorists did some attacks,” Rouhani said vowing not to allow ‘third party’ to undermine ties between the two countries. Imran Khan admitted that the issue of terrorism was undermining cooperation between the two countries
“Issue of terrorism is increasing differences between us,” he said adding, “We have suffered more than any other country. Pakistan military and security forces have done much and overcome this menace.”
Khan said the four decades of war in Afghanistan had affected both Iran and Pakistan. “There are 2.7 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and 3 million in Iran,” he said.
He said peace would not only help Afghanistan but also greatly benefit Pakistan and Iran. Both sides backed the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process.
Meeting with Khamanei
The PM also met the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamanei. The meeting was attended by the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. A joint statement issued at the conclusion of the PM’s two-day visit highlighted historical, cultural, religious ties between the two neighboring and Muslim countries.
The sides agreed to expand relations in all areas of mutual interest and reiterated the importance of deepening and reinforcing the bilateral ties based on principles of national interest, territorial integrity and mutual respect for national sovereignty. They called for swift implementation of bilateral agreements as a step towards realising this important goal.
Both sides highlighted that common borders should be the borders of peace and friendship, and acknowledged the necessity of forging regular cooperation and exchange of views between political, military and security officials of the two countries to combat threats such as terrorism, smuggling of narcotics, human trafficking, hostage-taking, money-laundering and abduction.
It was also agreed that the 10th Round of the Special Security Committee of the two ministries of interior will be held in Islamabad in June 2019 to discuss these matters in detail.
It was also agreed that the next meeting of the Joint Consular Commission would be held on 2nd half of 2019 to review the progress made so far and chart the way forward in further facilitating the movement of people from both sides.
Pakistan side welcomed the initiation of the process for release of a number of Pakistani prisoners by the government of Iran, and for making arrangements for their expeditious repatriation to Pakistan.
Rouhani and Khan agreed that enhancing and cementing cooperation between Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan province and Pakistan’s Balochistan province would contribute towards improvement of the economic situation of local residents, and help in resolving border challenges and insecurities. This cooperation includes opening of new border crossings and border markets.
Both sides agreed to hold the 2nd Round of High Border Commission in Islamabad in May 2019 to review the current status of preparations and further measures required for the earliest opening of new crossing points at Gabd-Reemdan and Mand-Pishin, besides opening of new border markets.
Both sides highlighted the necessity of extending cooperation in energy sector including export of electricity from Iran to Pakistan. Pakistani side extended its appreciation to the government of Iran for continuing electricity exports to Pakistan’s Balochistan province.
Khan reaffirmed the support and solidarity of the government and people of Pakistan with the people of Iran over loss of precious human lives and material damages due to recent severe floods in Iran.
He expressed the conviction that the people of Iran would handle this natural calamity with their characteristic resilience. Iranian side expressed its gratitude to Pakistan for sending humanitarian assistance to the flood affected people in Iran.
Both sides welcomed the signing of a declaration for cooperation in health sector aimed at bilateral technical assistance and experience sharing with tangible outputs.
Considering the increase in volume of trade between the two countries in 2018, the Iran president and PM Khan instructed relevant institutions and ministries to devise all required mechanisms for boosting monetary, financial and commercial activities to their full potential by utilising all available options.
The two sides also decided to hold the 21st round of the Joint Economic Commission (JEC) in the second half of 2019 in Pakistan to deliberate further on these issues. Both sides discussed and exchanged views on major regional and international issues. They said peace, tranquility and sustainable development are prerequisite for enhancing relations, integrity and synergy among the West Asian countries.
Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to the UN Charter and international laws, in particular the principles of sovereign equality of states, political independence and non-interference in the internal affairs of states.
The two sides reiterated the need for all states to adhere to the rule of law also at the international level. In this context, they expressed serious concerns over unilateral application of measures by any country that are inconsistent with the provisions of international law and the principles of UN Charter.
While condemning terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, both sides acknowledged the great achievements of the two countries in combating terrorism and emphasised that efforts to develop regional and international cooperation in preventing and countering terrorism should be redoubled and the root causes of all types of terrorism in the region be identified and addressed.
Considering importance of developing connectivity and transit corridors in order to accelerate and facilitate bilateral and regional cooperation and trade, both sides welcomed the implementation of bilateral and multilateral agreements including the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), as well as agreements on establishing the North–South and East–West corridors in Iran.
The PM and the Iranian president welcomed all dimensions of cooperation of the two countries with other states, particularly the six-party Speakers’ Conference in Tehran with the purpose of consolidating cooperation among the regional states.
Both sides highlighted the need to resolve the issue of Jammu and Kashmir through dialogue and peaceful means based on the will of the people of that region and in line with the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.
Imran Khan and Rouhani emphasized that the right of the people of Palestine to establish an independent and sovereign Palestinian state should be respected as the key demand of the Muslim states. Both sides also agreed to reinforce endeavours through regional and international arrangements and mechanisms to help Palestinians establish an independent state.
Both sides laid stress on swift and complete implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by other states considering the full compliance of Iran to its provisions.
Imran Khan expressed his appreciation to Rouhani for the warm and generous hospitality extended to the Pakistani delegation, and officially invited him to visit Pakistan at the earliest. Iran president accepted the gracious invitation. Dates for the visit will be worked out through diplomatic channels.