ISLAMABAD -- Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's recent visit to Pakistan has done little to mend the ailing relationship between the two countries, Pakistani defence and intelligence officials say.
Zarif visited Pakistan Sunday-Tuesday (March 11-13), calling on Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif, National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. (ret.) Nasir Khan Janjua and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, among other officials.
He started his visit on the defensive, attempting to assure Pakistanis that Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were not undermining the sovereignty and security of Pakistan.
The visit "was not as successful as planned and desired", a top Pakistani Defence Ministry official told Pakistan Forward on condition of anonymity.
"Our defence strategy is purely based on the national interests of Pakistan," he said. "As a front line state in the war against terror, Pakistan will always follow its own priorities."
The state conveyed its concerns over alleged Iranian aggression -- namely its support for a failed attack on the inauguration of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline that was attended by Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and its continuing recruitment of Pakistani Shia into Iranian militias -- to Zarif in a "strict" manner, he said.
"Javad Zarif was told that Pakistan is a sovereign state and that it will never allow any country to use its soil for any personal gains," he said.
"It has been made clear to the Iranian foreign minister that Pakistan is seeking peace in the region and will not support any effort or step that could result in an insurgency in the region," the official said.
Iranian double standards
Pakistani defence and intelligence analysts expressed doubt over Iran's reassurances.
"I think the Iranian foreign minister's recent visit to Pakistan has completely failed," Maj. (ret.) Mohammad Omar, a senior Islamabad-based defence analyst, told Pakistan Forward. "Javad Zarif tried to convince Pakistan that Iran is not involved in any activity against its security, but the position on the ground is contrary to his assurances."
Omar said he was "very surprised" by Zarif's statement that Iran wants to fight terrorism jointly with Pakistan.
"Iran itself is supporting terrorists in the region; therefore, in my opinion, Javad Zarif's recent statements reflect the Iran's double standards."
"Iran cannot undermine the sovereignty and security of Pakistan ... now that its anti-peace policy is exposed in the region and neighbouring countries -- including Pakistan and Afghanistan -- are openly condemning [Iran's] involvement on their soil," he said.
"Pakistan is keenly concerned about Iran's agreements with anti-Pakistan forces," Omar said. "It is essential for peace in the region to counter the nefarious Iranian design and the IRGC's controversial role."
"On one side, Iran is sponsoring the extremism in the region, and on the other side it is professing to fight the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' (ISIS), which is contradictory in many ways," he said. "It is time for Pakistan to revisit its policy of engagement with Iran."
"Iran is supporting anti-Pakistan elements in the region, and it wants to inflame border tensions for its growing aggression [in the region]," said Nabeel Yousaf, a former senior Pakistani intelligence official based in Rawalpindi.
"Pakistan wants peace in the region, but some elements based in Iran are trying to foil the peace process," he told Pakistan Forward. "If no steps are taken to remedy the situation and curb Iranian aggression, it will cause more uncertainty."
Iran "remains in a defensive position about its plans", Yousaf said. "Therefore, [Zarif] was repeatedly assuring [Pakistani officials] that Iran's soil won't be used against Pakistan."
"Pakistani Defence and Foreign Ministry officials had openly expressed their reservations to [Zarif] regarding Iranian aggression and asked for concrete steps into the matter," he said.
The steps being taken against the interests of Pakistan by the IRGC and their sponsored groups disrupt the ties between the two countries, he said. "In the future, I think Pakistan will not remain silent on any Iranian aggression."
Iran's proxy wars no longer a secret
"The Iranian proxy game in Pakistan and Afghanistan is no longer secret," a senior Islamabad-based official serving on the foreign desk of the Defence Ministry told Pakistan Forward on condition of anonymity.
"Iran cannot afford any rupture of its ties with Pakistan," he said. "The Iranian role in the region is becoming controversial day-by-day."
The IRGC's recruitment of Shia Muslims from Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight in its proxy wars is fomenting sectarianism and "sabotaging the peace" in the region, he said.
"The proxy warfare is distorting political relations between Iran and Pakistan," he said. "If Iran wants its ties with Pakistan to be ideal and controversy-free, it has to address Pakistan's reservations seriously."
"The Pakistan-Iran relationship should be based on mutual trust and respect for each other's interests," he said, adding that without trust, "the ties between the two countries will not progress."