Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday agreed to complete the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, saying it was beneficial for both countries.
The government “is determined to remove obstacles” in the way of the pipeline, Sharif told Rouhani on his first visit to Tehran since being elected prime minister last May. Ties between Islamabad and Tehran had become strained in February following the announcement by the Sharif government that Pakistan was suspending work on a $7.5-billion pipeline for Iranian gas exports. Work on the Iranian side is almost complete and Tehran expects Pakistan to finish the project on its side.
According to the official IRNA news agency, Rouhani and Sharif also held in-depth talks on “bilateral issues and the expansion of economic cooperation.” As he met Sharif, Rouhani said Iran was ready to develop “road and railway networks between the two countries … as well as electric grids” in order to bolster economic ties. Sharif told Rouhani that Pakistan and Iran are linked by common history and religion, adding: “I am here to open a new page in the Pak-Iran relationship.”
The visit comes amid tensions between the neighbors following the kidnapping in February of five Iranian soldiers by Sunni extremists who took them across the border into Pakistan. Tehran says the soldiers—four of whom returned home after being held for two months—were taken across the border, a claim Islamabad denies. The fate of the fifth soldier is unknown. His abductors claim to have killed him but this has yet to be officially confirmed.
Sharif told Rouhani that Islamabad would cooperate with Tehran “to eliminate Jaish-ul-Adl” (Army of Justice), the Sunni rebel group that had captured the soldiers, IRNA said. The group, active in the restive southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan province, took up arms in 2012 to fight for what it says are the rights of Iran’s minority Sunni population.
Both leaders reiterated their commitment to enhancing bilateral trade between their countries, and APP reported that eight agreements enhancing cooperation in various fields had been signed on the first day. IRNA also reported that several protocol agreements would be signed during Sharif’s visit.
During his two-day visit Sharif, who is accompanied by senior advisers, is also expected to meet supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s ultimate authority, media reported.