The visit of Iranian President Dr Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi to Pakistan has perhaps, partially repaired the trust that was hit by the recent standoff between the two countries after airstrikes into each other’s territory.

Both sides have shown intent through their statements at the highest levels to fight militancy together and further improve coordination in this regard.

This, at least, shows that we may not see an armed exchange between the two sides in the foreseeable future.

Beyond this, though, it doesn’t appear that Pakistan or Iran will gain much from the Iranian president’s visit in terms of increased commerce and energy cooperation.

President Raisi’s visit illustrated how the ambitious goal of enhancing trade and economic linkages is still hindered by some structural issues, despite the tour’s grandiosity and attempts to present it as a game-changer. This suggests the relationship remains constrained, with the symbolic value taking precedence over substantive progress.

In historic visit, Iran President Raisi says decision made to increase bilateral trade five-fold to $10bn

These concerns are more on Pakistan’s side than Iran’s, which might not stand to lose much by fortifying its connections with Pakistan. However, Islamabad is more bogged down in concerns about what its alliances with Tehran would mean for its relationships with its allies who carry sway over its economy.

Arguably, the visit was more symbolic than substantive. While the leaders signed various memorandums of understanding, there was a lack of concrete plans or meaningful agreements to transform the relationship into a deeper economic and trade partnership.

The intent behind such high-level visits is often to create an impression of significance, but the outcomes fall short of expectations. President Raisi’s call to enhance bilateral trade has been welcomed, yet there was no convincing roadmap provided by either side on how this would be achieved.

The agreements focused on secondary areas like judicial assistance and veterinary cooperation, while the key issues that could genuinely boost ties, such as the long-pending gas pipeline project and addressing militant concerns, were largely absent from the discussions.

2nd day of visit: Iran President Raisi highlights ‘special connection’ with Pakistanis on his arrival in Lahore

For many, the visit by the President of Iran was a missed opportunity to discuss the militancy issue emanating from Afghanistan. Pakistan could have leveraged this interaction to boost its diplomatic efforts against the Afghan Taliban, or at least convey an impression of support from a neighboring country for the cause.

To some extent, the nature of the visit suggests an active effort to downplay its tangible value for bilateral relations. Pakistan likely didn’t want to overtly pitch major oil, gas, and other projects, to avoid drawing attention from the West, especially given Iran’s current geopolitical situation.

This approach could create an impression similar to when former Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Russia amidst the Ukraine invasion, which caused issues for Pakistan in Western capitals. Pakistan may have wanted to avoid a repeat of that scenario with President Raisi’s visit. As a result, we didn’t see any substantial statements or plans regarding energy and trade cooperation beyond mere intentions.

In terms of the visit’s overall diplomatic success, Pakistan might be happy that it was arranged without provoking hostility from the US or other parties.

Iranian President Raisi, Sindh Chief Minister discuss bilateral economic opportunities

For instance, the visit demonstrates that Pakistan does not have a terrible relationship with all of its neighbours. It is significant to remember that Pakistan has previously carried out airstrikes on Afghanistan, Iran, and India. Pakistan wants to dispel the notion that it is embroiled in a war with its neighbors. Iran would be removed from that list, something Islamabad may have succeeded in doing.

Iran may be keen to have its president visit Pakistan at a time when the country seems isolated due to the ongoing Middle East crisis. This could be seen as an opportunity for Iran to strengthen ties with a neighboring country, potentially gaining support or reducing concerns about its borders.

Moreover, Iran may not be seeking significant commitments from Pakistan on energy-related matters, as Tehran is aware of Pakistan’s constraints due to the threat of US sanctions. With Pakistan’s economy struggling and the country looking to the West for IMF loans and other bailout packages, Iran’s leadership likely understands these concerns.

As a result, the visit may be more of a cultural exchange rather than a negotiation between an energy-rich country and a neighbor seeking concessions to alleviate the impact of rising fuel prices on its economy.

If the visit had taken place in a different geopolitical environment, Pakistan would have benefited more from it.

Nevertheless, for Islamabad to profit from what energy-rich Iran has to offer, Pakistan must devise a more creative strategy to balance its ties with Tehran and its foes.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Umair Jamal

The writer is Head of the Political Desk at Business Recorder (Digital)


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test Apr 25, 2024 07:17pm
We have to increase non dollar trade in other currencies like chinese yuan dirham dinar riyal I mean trade with other countries in other currencies has a lot of benefit for our forex reserve and trade
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test Apr 25, 2024 07:19pm
Let's say if a country x has problem with country y then we can ask them to trade in currency of country z so that both benefit because both x and y have business to do with country z which is China.
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test Apr 25, 2024 07:24pm
1st we have a lot of trade deficit with Gulf Countries which is big a loss for Pakistan. 2nd we are dealing with Gulf Countries in dollars which is another big loss for Pakistan. We must trade in Yuan
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