Friday, 23 July 2017
The uneasy relationship between Pakistan and Iran took another turn for the worse after the Foreign Office confirmed that on Monday Pakistan Airforce had shot down an unmanned Iranian drone that had crossed 3-4 kilometres across the border. The confirmation was followed by a strong condemnation, with FO Spokesperson Nafees Zakaria reiterating that the presence of the drone was a violation of our sovereignty and would not be tolerated. Ties have been strained since late April, when 11 Iranian border guards were killed in an attack by Jaishul Adl militants. Iran had claimed that the militants came from and retreated to Pakistani territory after the attack – an allegation Pakistan has strongly denied. Iran also threatened to go after militants across the border should another such situation arise. Iran possesses both armed and unarmed drones and neither country has confirmed which kind of drone had been shot down. It is likely, though, that the drone was being used for surveillance purposes. While that is not as bad as the armed drone strikes the US has repeatedly carried out in Pakistan, it nonetheless cannot be accepted. If Iran is concerned about militants possibly seeking refuge in Pakistan then it needs to work with us so that both sides can share intelligence to counter the threat.
The problems between the two countries are not restricted to the militancy issue. Far more tension has been created by what Iran perceives as Pakistan’s decision to side with Saudi Arabia in the proxy battles being fought in the Middle East. Pakistan’s official position is one of neutrality but with former army chief Raheel Sharif heading the Saudi military alliance and PM Nawaz Sharif attending the summit in Riyadh, Iran is wary. Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz has told parliament that Raheel Sharif has gone to Saudi Arabia as a private citizen and so cannot be recalled – although some would say that the government could always cancel his NoC. Pakistan has to do a better job of staying out of the various conflicts in the Middle East and it also needs to ensure its friendship with Saudi Arabia does not affect its relationship with Iran. The drone incident makes that more difficult but the way forward is through regular engagement on matters of trade and a border mechanism that allows for better communication between forces on both sides.