New Horizons of Pak-Iran bilateral relations

1. How do you define and compare your native culture with the local culture? Further how you feel about your stay in Pakistan?

We feel proud our culture, history and heritage. No doubt, Iran’s glory has always been its culture. Iranian culture is the useful blend of many regional cultures and ancient civilizations. It is full of colors, humanistic spirits, heavenly faiths and sacred teachings. Elasticity has been one of the main defining characteristics of our culture.

Iran has been the birthplace of many of the world’s most influential religions. Iranian culture is like a beautiful Persian carpet that portrays numerous colors and forms in a dazzling display of warmth and creativity.

Furthermore, according to Islam we believe in democratic norms, freedom of press and expression, gender equality, and respect for human rights. Pakistani culture is full of energy and purposefulness. I really appreciate the joint family system of Pakistan. It is colorful and portrays all shades of ancient ages to modernity. People are friendly and welcoming. They are cooperative and decent. They are brave and sensible. I really enjoy my stay in Pakistan.

2. Iran is the home of rich culture, civilization, heritage and history. How, the cultural activities and heritage exchange could be enhanced between the two countries.

There is also a great need to improve cultural relations as it could help create mutually favourable psychological perceptions towards each other. Pakistan and Iran can organise annual art exhibitions in each other’s countries. Exchange programmes between various universities and research institutions could be established. Both can extend scholarships to each other’s students for higher studies in their respective universities.

Cultural integration has been one of the main source of inspiration which ultimately opens new ways of refined interaction, mutual understanding, and negate all possible wrong perceptions. Exchange of frequent cultural delegations, increasing tourism activities, students and academia exchange programs, holding of exhibitions of paintings, calligraphy, arts, and moreover, exchange of drams and movies would provide ideal platform to enhance cultural cooperation.

3. How you evaluate bilateral relations between the two countries?

Iran and Pakistan have a long history of cordial and friendly relations. The history of Pak–Iran relations goes back to the earliest days of Pakistan’s independence. Iran was the first country that accorded official recognition to the independence of Pakistan in August 1947. Iran Pakistan and are bound together by faith, common heritage and shared values of love and peace, tolerance and humanity. Iran and Pakistan have cooperated in the past, and stood by each other in the event of a calamity or crisis. Both countries have identical views with regard to the need for establishing fairness in international trading in this era of globalization. And both countries also feel the need to revitalize the Organization of Islamic Conference with a view to effectively meeting the challenges faced by Muslim Ummah at the present juncture when efforts are being made to malign Muslims and demonize Islam.

4. What is the volume of bilateral trade between Pakistan and Iran? What are the main hurdles? Moreover, would you please suggest different means to enhance its pace and volumes in the days to come?

No doubt it is on the rise but the level of bilateral trade is still not up to the mark. The present volume of trade between the two countries showed that the bilateral trade potential is untapped. Pakistan and Iran should enhance their economic cooperation as the existing two-way trade volume has so far failed to benefit from the huge existing potentials between the two countries. It was $582 million during the year 2007 and last year (2008) it reached to $1.1Billion between the two countries (on the source of federal board of statistics). Pakistani exports grew by 150 percent and exports of Iran grew by 70 percent. We hope that with the passage of time it will increase in the days to come.

5. What are the chances of Free Trade Zones between the two countries?

We hope that the establishment of Free Trade Zones in Iran and Pakistan could be helpful in boosting the existing level of two-way trade volume. And both the government should concentrate on FTZs.

6. Why PTA is important for both the countries?

We have suggested for enlarging the scope of Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) covering more products actually traded between the two countries. We have already extended assurance of Iranian government’s support for increase in bilateral trade relationship. We also suggested that the meeting of the Joint Trade Committee (JTC) constituted under Pakistan-Iran Economic Commission needs to be convened soon where all trade related issues with special focus on enlargement of PTA can be discussed.

7. Economic integration between the two countries would provide win-win position for both the country. How it can be increased?

Regional economic integration and cooperation is must to protect our societies and economies from the ongoing global economic crisis. Moreover, we can jointly compete in the international markets. It would be win-win position for both the countries. Economics is a complicated discipline which always works in integration. It flourishes in cooperative mechanism and open new avenues of socio-economic prosperity and self-reliance. More bilateral trade, frequent exchange of business communities/delegations, fair and free exchange of desired information, removal of all hurdles in PTA, finalization and realization of all related MOUs/agreements of trade, commerce, technology transfer, joint ventures and moreover, FDI would pay the dividends.

Both the sides expressed their government’s resolve to promote bilateral trade and economic ties between two brotherly countries. Both the sides exchanged views on matters of bilateral interest and reiterated their commitment to strengthen mutual ties. Both the sides resolved that Pak-Iran JEC shall continue to deliberate on issues of joint economic interest that focus cooperation in energy, oil, trade and other sectors of bilateral interest to the mutual benefit of two countries. Both sides also agreed to promote cooperation between the ports of Chabhar and Gwadar and possibly ports of Shahid Jajaee and Karachi as well. In this regard both the delegations agreed to facilitate exchange of information and delegations from the respective ports.

8. What are the chances of mutual cooperation in alternative energy resources?

Keeping in view, the looming energy security concerns in the region and around the globe and excel and cooperation in alternative energy is must. Our future and survival rests on alternative energy resources. Recently, during their visit the Iranian delegation signed a MoU which was done between the Planet Energy Pvt Ltd and Sunir Co of Iran for the joint development of a 50MW wind farm in Pakistan. The MoU was signed by Chairman Planet Energy Pvt Ltd, Tariq Sayeed and the Managing Director Sunir Co Reza Ebadzadeh. It agreed that both companies would jointly invest in developing this wind farm. It is indeed a great development in the renewable energy sector, especially wind.

9. Do Pakistan and Iran have energy cooperation? What are the main areas of energy cooperation between the two countries?

Yes we have energy cooperation and different energy projects are going on. Recently, a high-powered delegation from Iran headed by Engr. Parviz Fatah, the minister of energy visited Pakistan on the invitation of Federal Minister of Water and Power, Raja Pervez Ashraf from December 29-31, 2008. The Iranian delegation discussed/ met with different high officials of the government and visited different ministries and concerned places in order to explore all possible avenues to cooperate in the energy sectors. Both the countries signed a joint declaration for further bilateral cooperation in the power sector. They also agreed to expedite the implementation of the ongoing projects. Pakistan and Iran agreed to establish a monitoring committee at ministerial level to fix a schedule for the completion of the ongoing and proposed projects, remove the impediments and to take remedial measures in this respect. It was also finalized that the transmission lines for import of 100mw would be completed by an Iranian company by the end of 2010. Furthermore, it was also agreed that while carrying out the feasibility study for the transmission lines, a provision for transmission of additional 1,000mw should also be accommodated.

Iranian deputy minister of energy, Abbas Aliabadi and managing director of PEPCO, Fazal Ahmed Khan were nominated as key people from their respective countries for implementation of the agreed and existing projects. Main projects: both the countries were not satisfied with the slow pace of progress on two projects, namely the import of 100mw of power for the Gwadar Port construction of the transmission line and feasibility study for 1,000 mw transmission line between Quetta and Zahidan. The Iranian delegation made an offer that a gas based power plant of 1,000mw capacity near Zahidan could be made available for export of power to Pakistan in addition to the earlier agreed 1,000mw.

10. Do you think that both the countries should jointly work for exploring markets for their textiles?

We are living in the era of globalization. Due to uneven global economic practice especially economic protectionism, trade and monetary system our products are facing tough times in the international markets. So, in order to compete in the international markets it is better for us to jointly explore markets for our textiles. As both countries are member of ECO, SAARC and D8 we can do several jobs jointly.

11. What are the chances of financial and banking cooperation between two brotherly countries?

Financial integration and banking cooperation is vital for easy and smooth bilateral trade between us. Highlighting the present banking system as a hurdle in bilateral trade between Pakistan and Iran, the Iranian government has planned to open a branch of Bank in Karachi since 5 years that still under process of SBP and be awaited. reciprocally we welcome opening branches of any Pakistan’s Bank such as National Bank of Pakistan may open in Iran. Another hurdle that we face from some Pakistan’s banks is opening and accepting of L/C from or via I.R. Iran that no justification on that. If we want to promote our bilateral trade we must facilitate banking and financial relations.

12. Joint ventures open vast opportunities of investments, technology transfer, and economic prosperity. What are the specific fields where we can have joint ventures in the future?

It is strongly suggested that businessmen of Pakistan and Iran could initiate joint ventures in the sectors of agriculture, dairy & food processing, SMEs, oil & gas exploration, hydel & coal based energy projects, paper & paper board, sugar, cement, chemicals, transport and communication etc. Successful launching of joint ventures in textile, petrochemicals, livestock, food processing and other allied sectors would definitely pay the dividends. Pak-Iran joint investment company that started its formal activity last year could be good based to promote these objects.

13. What are the prospects of Iranian private companies and businessmen investments in our country? Furthermore, what are the main areas of investments?

Pakistan and especially, Punjab is offering tremendous opportunities to Iranian investors in various sectors. Pakistan and Iran are cooperating each other in several sectors. We think that Pak-Iran private sectors through joint ventures and collaborations can help boost and accelerate the pace of industrial growth in the region for the welfare and benefits of the people of two countries. God has enriched us with plenty of natural resources and minerals deposits which could be fully exploited and harnessed for the development of the region.

Most recently, Iranian authorities and Punjab Industrial Estates Development and Management Company (PIEDMC) inked a MoU to enhance bilateral economic cooperation for investment opportunities in economic zones of both the countries. According to MoU both the authorities agreed to encourage and promote investment and cooperation; establish offices and keep each other informed about their activities as well as exchange information and publications.

14. Would you please like to convey a message to our people?

We share similarities of culture, history and a proud heritage. We have been engaging in different useful projects and helping each others in its difficult times. Strengthening of bilateral relations is the need of the hour. We love Pakistan and its people. We always regard them honest, brave, decent and educated people. We wish that may Allah be with us in the voyage of mutual friendship, socio-economic cooperation and bilateral diplomatic relations in the days to come.

Mehmood-Ul-Hassan Khan conducted a comprehensive interview with Honorable Mashallah Shakeri, Ambassador of Iran in Pakistan and explored different possibilities to enhance bilateral relations

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