Pakistan, historically, has treated Iran as a brotherly state that shares border with Pakistan and a country Pakistan must always have good relations with. Pakistan has a large Shi’ite population which, overall, is sympathetic to Iran. During U.S. sanctions on Iran, while India continued to deal with Iran (Iran is the second largest supplier of crude oil to India) by cleverly bypassing the sanctions, Pakistan took the American line and imposed its own sanctions on Iran which it recently lifted after Obama’s JCPOA. Pakistan has also historically helped Iran in counter-terrorism. One such high profile case where Pakistan cooperated with Iran on counter-terrorism was Abdolmalek Rigi‘s case, who was the leader of Sunni terrorist group Jundallah that was responsible for terror activities in Iran. While Iran still maintains a very different version of the story of Rigi’s capture, the truth was that Pakistan arrested Rigi and handed him over to Iran in complete understanding with U.S. Amusingly, according to CIA memos Rigi thought he was working for CIA but he was actually recruited by Mossad agents who were posing as CIA agents. While since 1987 Pakistan has officially and consistently blocked Iran’s attempts to acquire nuclear weapons, one of Pakistan’s senior scientists did hand over sensitive material to Iran (whether with the approval of Pakistani establishment or not is unclear). Some misguided strategists in Pakistan assumed that Iran going nuclear will help neutralize Israel but failed to analyze that if Iran goes nuclear, so will Saudis and the nuclear fallout of a nuclear confrontation between Saudi and Iran will directly impact Pakistan since Iran shares border with Pakistan. Moreover, Israel will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons and will likely bomb Iran to smithereens before that happens.
Iran also has a strategic alliance with India in the form of a defence cooperation pact which was signed in 2002. Iranians also hold the most favorable view of Indian influence in the WHOLE world. According to a 2005 BBC poll, 71% of Iranians viewed India’s influence positively, with 21% viewing it negatively, the most favorable rating of India for any country in the world. With the growing India-Iran ties, it is safe to assume the favorable rating for Indian influence among Iranians must be now well above 71%. Iran has also opened up its strategically important Chabahar port for India, where India maintains a significant presence, which comes at a cost for Pakistan. The Indian spy Kulbhushan Yadav who was recently captured by Pakistan from Balochistan was actually based in Chabahar, Iran. Obviously Iran’s intelligence services and its regime knows what is going on and yet it has not been shy in showing open complicity with India. How many more Indian spies have entered Pakistan from Iran and weren’t caught is anyone’s guess. While Iran has offered to play the role of a mediator between India and Pakistan, it will be entirely foolish for Pakistan to accept its offer as it can never been an unbiased mediator.
Pakistan’s interests somewhat align with Iran’s on very few issues. One of them is Afghanistan. Iran has historically supported the Northern Alliance (along with India) against the Taliban but it has been playing a double role since at least 2001. On one hand Iran supports U.S.-backed Kabul regime and on the other hand it supports the Taliban. With the rise of Islamic State in Afghanistan, Iran has renewed its backing of Taliban which it (along with Pakistan, Russia) sees as the only force in Afghanistan that is capable of fighting IS.
While Pakistan has been very kind with Iran (compared with some other countries), Iran has been ungrateful and cowardly towards Pakistan. Iran has shown its gratefulness for Pakistan’s kind attitude by funding terror in Pakistan via its Shi’ite Pakistani proxies, recruiting Pakistani Shi’ites to fight Iran’s bloody and criminal war in Syria, creating a network of Iranian spies in Pakistan, supporting Balochistan insurgency (in alliance with India) and even dealing with drug and criminal networks in Pakistan. While Iran quietly supports Balochistan insurgency, it has different goals than India. Iran supports Balochistan insurgency not to create a separate Baloch state but to keep the trouble out of Iran’s Balochistan and instead restrict it to Pakistan’s part of Balochistan. This is why Iran encourages Baloch separatists to wage war on Pakistan in exchange for ‘cold peace’ with Iran, even though Iran is engaged in some horrible crimes against humanity in its part of Balochistan. While many in Pakistani media openly talk about Pakistan’s Balochistan, U.S. experts have dubbed Iran’s Sistan and Balochistan “the closest thing to Mars on Earth” (as per a group of US geologists visiting the region of Sistan and Balochistan in the early 1970s). No one really knows for sure what Iran does in its part of Balochistan where horrific stories like all men of Baloch villages mysteriously disappearing or getting killed overnight emerge now and then. And yet, this same Sistan and Balochistan is also where India has a huge presence and is busy developing Chabahar Port project which may be good for India and Iran but very bad for Pakistan’s interests. Indians will never dare speak up on Iranian atrocities in Iran’s part of Balochistan even though Indian PM Mr Modi mentioned Pakistan’s Balochistan in his speech and Indian analysts and government officials have admitted India’s support for Baloch insurgency. Baloch protests against Pakistan held in Western countries are also directly funded by India. These protests suspiciously only bash Pakistan while making absolutely no mention of Iran and its human rights abuses in its part of Balochistan. And then there’s Brahamdagh Bugti and open Indian support for him. Again, it is worth noting that Iran’s interests regarding Pakistan’s Balochistan are overall different than India’s which is why Iran wouldn’t want India to talk too much about Balochistan on international forums since it will also bring attention to Iran’s Sistan and Balochistan, which obviously Iran wouldn’t want. Simply put, while India wants to actually break away Balochistan from Pakistan (due to several strategic reasons), Iran wants to keep Baloch insurgency alive just enough to escape trouble in its own part of Balochistan but it doesn’t want to go all the way like India.
When Will Pakistan’s Rulers Wise Up?
Pakistan’s rulers live under the illusion that ‘Muslim Ummah’ exists and Pakistan is a crucial part of it. Reality is there is no such thing as Ummah, Pakistan’s rulers have proved to be a bunch of fools and other Muslim majority states have long played the game of deceit with Pakistan. Many ideological Pakistanis fail to realize that there are only nation states with their own national interests. Pakistan and Iran are two such nation states. The interests and grand designs of Iran’s mullahs run counter to Pakistan’s regional and international interests. Iran’s alliance with India and heavy Indian presence in Iran’s Sistan and Balochistan is also dangerous and deeply hurts Pakistan’s interests. Under the changing geopolitical situation, Pakistan must reevaluate its policies towards Iran. Pakistan must come up with a more tough policy for Iran which is based on equality and give & take, not just take, take, take. Iran likes to act like a regional bully which it has proved in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, etc where it is subverting societies and creating new proxies every day. Iran’s hold on many (but not all) Shi’ite groups and individuals in Pakistan is incredible, who are more loyal to Iran than Pakistan. This is the fifth column in Pakistan, which Iran can activate in case of a direct confrontation with Pakistan. The fact that Iran’s spy Uzair Baloch was heavily involved with and backed by a leading national political party of Pakistan (PPP) also indicates that Iran may have already infiltrated Pakistan’s political parties. The question is, when will Pakistan’s rulers as well as Pakistani strategists reevaluate and correct Pakistan’s Iran policies. Is Pakistan ready for the upcoming confrontation between Iran and the rest of the world? Have Pakistani strategists and military-intelligence establishment decided where will Pakistan stand in case of U.S. or Israeli pre-emptive strikes on Iran nuclear facilities? Moreover, has Pakistan’s establishment devised a plan how to neutralize Iran’s proxies in Pakistan without igniting a sectarian conflict, in case that becomes necessary?
There’s a lot that Pakistan needs to answer when it comes to educating Pakistani public on what Iran has been up to in Pakistan and how Pakistan plans to tackle a future Iranian threat. For now, Pakistan is avoiding it due to strategic necessity.