On December 19, Pakistan and Iran held an inauguration ceremony of opening a new crossing point, the Rimdan-Gabd border gateway, to facilitate the trade activities on the border. The gateway is located at 130 km from the strategically important, Chabahar’s Port, in Iran’s south-eastern Sistan-Balochistan province. The opening of the border is the outcome of the Iranian Foreign Minister, Javed Zarif’s visit to Islamabad last month when both countries agreed to bolster the trade between the two neighboring countries.
Pakistan shares a 959-km border with Iran, and till the opening of the Rimdan-Gabd gateway, Mirjavah-Taftan was the only official crossing point for the trade and public movement. The opening of the new gateway will reduce the burden on the Mirjavah-Taftan border. It is expected with the opening of this new border, the exchange of goods within both countries will reach up to $5 billion, which both countries have pledged since 2015. The crossing point will also assist the public movement, as a huge number of Zaireen travel to Iran for a religious congregation. During the beginning of the pandemic, it was witnessed that a large group of people was stuck on the Taftan border returning from Iran, when it was the epicentre of COVID-19, back in March, this year.
According to the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration (IRICA), the exchange of goods occurred from March to November this year exceeds 1,738,000 tons, amounting to $708 million. Major exports of Pakistan to Iran are fruits, particularly mangoes, rice, meat, paper and textiles while imports fuels, minerals, organic chemicals, plastic, vegetable and fruits. Pakistan exports 20% of its mangoes to Iran and both the states are cooperating in the agriculture sector. Islamabad and Iran have also consented to held online business-to-business meetings to explore and expand business opportunities, especially in the IT sector.
Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey are also working to resume the operation of Istanbul, Tehran, Islamabad (ITI) train next year, a project launched under the Economic Cooperation Organization in 2009. The track is cost-effective and will connect Asia with Europe via Istanbul’s undersea Marmaray railway tunnel which then connects with the European railway track. This route is recognized by the United Nations as an International corridor between the three countries. Along with this, PM Imran Khan, in 2019, added in Quetta that his Government will also restore the Quetta-Taftan Railway track and would upgrade it to Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) basis.
The closeness of Iran to Pakistan is coming under such a situation, when the relations of Pakistan are strained with Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia and that of Iran with Pakistan’s foe, India. Pakistan is not happy with its traditional friend Saudi Arabia for not diplomatically supporting the Kashmiri’s cause while Saudi Arabia has reservations over Pakistan’s tilt towards Turkey and the changing political scenario of the Middle East. Iran on the other hand has expelled India from the Chabahar port project by claiming that it is not funding the project. Tehran has also opposed the revocation of the political status of Kashmir by the Indian parliament in August 2019, which wasn’t in the favor of India, diplomatically.
The State of Iran seems to be aligning itself with its neighboring countries, before the opening of Rimdan-Gabd, Iran opens the railroad Khaf-Herat with Afghanistan. Iran is also interested to be a part of CPEC, and the new crossing point will lead their way to it due to its proximity with Gwadar port and China cordial relations with Pakistan and Iran. The resumption of the ITI railroad will ease their accessibility to Central Asian states. The spokesman of Iranian Foreign Ministry Saeed Khatibzadeh before the inauguration of Rimdan-Gabd stated that “Creation of this border crossing between the two friendly and neighboring states and the recent inauguration of Khaf-Herat railroad demonstrate that the Islamic Republic of Iran attaches special significance to interaction and cooperation with its neighbors and considers close cooperation with the neighboring countries as the way for the West Asia region’s progress and excellence”.
The victory of Joe Biden has also created hope, as he had claimed to re-enter, to Iran –Nuclear-deal (JCPOA), it will ease economic restriction on Iran. As per as Pakistan is concerned, the country should take advantage of the opportunity, by restarting cost-effective incomplete Iran, Pakistan gas-pipeline by overcoming its gas shortage. By exploring economic opportunities, it will strengthen its position in the region and can get access to the Chahbahar port, which will serve its economic as well as strategic interest. But Islamabad should also maintain a balance by diplomatic means between Tehran and Riyadh. Nothing is permanent in International Relations.