ISLAMABAD: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to visit Pakistan at the end of this month in a bid to re-establish bilateral economic ties following the lifting of sanctions, besides attempting to mend the strained political relationship because of Middle Eastern politics.
News of Mr Rouhani’s two-day visit to Islamabad had been circulating since the end of last month, but the dates were disclosed in a defence ministry statement issued after Defence Minister Khawaja Asif met the Iranian envoy, Mehdi Honardoost. The visit is yet to be officially announced by the foreign ministry.
Pakistan “is looking forward to the scheduled visit (Mar 25, 26) of President of Iran and hopes that it would further strengthen relations between the two countries”, Mr Asif was quoted as saying.
This would be the first visit by an Iranian president to Pakistan in four years. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last visited Islamabad in Feb 2012 to attend a trilateral summit with Afghan and Pakistani leaders.
Trade relations between the two countries resumed after the lifting of sanctions on Tehran
More importantly, Mr Rouhani’s visit comes at a time when curbs on Iran have been lifted following a nuclear deal with P5+1 countries that came into effect in January, earlier this year.
The Iranian president has made a number of overseas trips since the lifting of sanctions to revive his country’s trade ties.
Pakistan de-notified the UN sanctions at the end of February paving the way for the re-establishment of trade and business relations.
Mr Sharif last visited Tehran in January looking to mediate between Tehran and Riyadh when tensions between the two countries spiked in the aftermath of the execution of activist and Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr, by Saudi authorities. The prime minister had earlier paid a bilateral visit to Tehran in May 2014.
Iran has been expressing keen interest in expanding economic ties with Pakistan particularly for the export of electricity, natural gas, crude oil and petro-chemicals and investment in infrastructure projects such as the building of highways and rail tracks, construction of dams and establishing oil refineries and power plants.
Tehran wants to make the long held-up Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline the centre-piece of the renewed economic cooperation.
“The essence of Pak-Iran friendship would be materialised in the form of some projects and the Iran-Pakistan Gas Pipeline is one of the best projects in this regard,” Amb Honardoost was quoted in the defence ministry statement.
The two countries had performed the groundbreaking of the gas pipeline in March 2013, but there has been no progress on the project since.
The Iranian portion of the pipeline is said to have been laid, while Pakistan is yet to start work on its side. Pakistani officials say the work has remained held up because of economic sanctions on Iran.
The Gwadar-Nawabshah pipeline being laid by the Chinese under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has raised hopes that the Iran-Pakistan pipeline may at some point be realised as only a small portion would need to be laid to connect it to the Iranian pipeline.