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Pakistan-Iran relations: Latest setback
Relations between Pakistan and Iran are often jittery as well as dysfunctional. Pakistan, in the last of November 2015, arbitrary and abruptly suspended 723 kilometer freight train service between Quetta, Baluchistan and Zahedan, Iran, citing the security and lack of trade activities between the two countries as main reasons for it.

This was a major decision on Pak-Iran relations, taken by the Pakistan government after Lt. General (Retd) Nasser Khan Janjua's took over as National Security Advisor (NSA) on October 23, 2015. Lt. General Janjua has replaced a senior technocrat, diplomat and former Federal Minister Sartaj Aziz. 

Before retirement, Gen. Janjua was Corps Commander of Quetta based XII Corps and he claims to be fully conscious of security issues of Baluchistan, which is Iran's bordering and troubled province of Pakistan. He is, however, also known as a 'Butcher of Baluchistan' amongst nationalist and separatists Baluchis.

Freight train service between Pakistan and Iran, which are two majority Sunni and Shia countries of the world, was earlier suspended in 2010, and was resumed in January 2015 and the service remain suspended since September 2015 due to law and order problem In Baluchistan and security reasons. The freight train used to take about 30 hours to cover distance of about 700 km between Quetta and Zahedan. While Pakistan used to export rice and other goods, Iran used to export oil, Sulfur, chemicals and charcoal to Pakistan through the train.

Incidentally, freight train service between Pakistan and Iran (Quetta-Zahedan) was at peak in 2005-06 but was virtually abandoned in 2010 due to certain technical problems, including poor infrastructure of railways from Quetta to Taftan, which is the starting point of Iran border as well as law and order problem in Baluchistan.

Economically it was also not found viable to maintain the freight train service between Pakistan and Iran as annual trade through this mean between the two countries was eight thousand bogies per year in 2004-05, which came down at only hundred bogies in the year 2010.

Moreover, Pakistan Railways, which has been facing annual deficit of over Pak Rs 26 billion annually, considered the running of freight train service between Pakistan and Iran as "useless" until peace was established in the disturbed province of Baluchistan.

Pakistan has negative trade balance with Iran. Pakistan's exports to Iran decreased from US$ 399 million in 2008-9 to US$ 161 million in 2010-11, indicating a decrease of 54 per cent. Meanwhile, Pakistan's imports from Iran also decreased from US$ 921 million in 2008-9 to US$ 572 million in 2010-11.

While Pakistan exports textile, rice, fresh fruits, meat, wood, cotton, medicines, surgical equipments, it primarily imports oil, petroleum products, plastics, iron and steel and chemicals from Iran. In March 2004, Pakistan-Iran had also signed Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA), which was implemented by Pakistan in September 2006 and by Iran in November 2006.

Pakistan's Baluchistan province has a 700 km long border with Iran. Civil unrest, militancy, attacks on Shias and critical law and order situation in Baluchistan remained issues of major concern for Iran as there are about two million Baloch ethnic people live Iran. Baluchistan is highly infested with insurgency, sectarian violence, terrorism and subversive activities against Pakistan's federal government.

Rebel Bloch leaders have been demanding greater autonomy since Pakistan's inception. Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a militant organization ,which has strength of over ten thousand activists is involved in attacking Pakistani security personnel, civil and military establishments and disrupting supply of gas from Baluchistan to other areas of Pakistan. BLA has been designated as a terrorist organization by the Pakistan government. It is also accused of being supported by India.

Use of Pakistani territory by some anti-Iranian Sunni militant groups to carry out militant attacks in Iran is main reason of tension between Iran and Pakistan. Some leading anti-Shia terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda, Tehrik-e-Taliban, Pakisan (TTP), Jundallah have been targeting Shias in Baluchistan in regular intervals. Iran, being a Shia state is concerned about attacks on Shias in Baluchistan.

Ethnic Baloch living in Iran feel discriminated at the hands of Shia majority government. Some Sunni militant groups having affiliation with Al-Qaeda, particularly Jundallah have been using Baluchistan's territory to carryout militant attacks in Iran for equal rights of Sunnis. Such anti-Iranian groups have reportedly support of ISI and Saudi Arabia.

Jundallah, in a number of bomb attacks in Zahedan, between 2007-13, had killed hundreds of Iranian Shias. Likewise, Jaish-al-Adl also known as Army of Justice and Harakat Ansar Iran, are other Sunni organizations which are involved in militancy and have attacking on Iranian security men and Shias mosques inside the Iranian territory.

Meanwhile, Iran has been erecting concrete wall on the shared borders with Pakistan, covering an area of over 700 km to illegal border crossing, smuggling of drugs into its territory from Pakistan and more importantly to stop militant and subversive activities by anti-Iranian Sunni groups, operating between Pakistan and Iran.

Although Pakistan has no boundary dispute with Iran, but latter's close relations with India are viewed suspiciously by Pakistan. India has been assisting Iran in developing Chabahar port and also involved in construction of some strategic roads in Iran. Pakistan, has been accusing India of helping Baluch separatists and providing arms to them and fears that India, through presence of Indians in Iran, India may further create problems in Baluchistan.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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