In June 2017, nearly two dozen Chinese, protected by a Pakistani security detail conducted surveys and took soil samples in areas west of the Pakistani port of Gwadar near the Iranian border, suggesting the possibility of a major new construction project, according to on-the-ground sources.
In late September 2017, a delegation of Chinese, Pakistanis and Iranians, including military and intelligence personnel, met in Iran near the border with Pakistan, again close to the port city of Gwadar. It was reported that the meeting dealt with security issues in the region, in particular, between the important Iranian port of Chabahar and Gwadar.
Again, in mid-October 2017, there was another secret meeting between the Pakistanis and the Iranians on the border near Gwadar.
At the beginning of November 2017, in the first such trip in twenty years, Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa went to Iran for a three-day official visit. During his time in Tehran, he met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in an effort to expand “military and defence cooperation with Tehran, besides promoting historical and economic relations and cooperation in other areas.”
The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the Pakistan Armed Forces, stated, “Leaders of both sides agreed to stay engaged for enhanced bilateral cooperation while jointly working to assist in bringing positive developments in other issues concerning the region.”
The ISPR added that the discussions included “Afghan situation, growing threat of ISIS in the region and Pak-Iran border security.”
In recent years, there have been numerous incidents along the Iran-Pakistan border in Balochistan province including; attacks on Iran reportedly by Saudi-funded anti-Shia Islamic extremist groups, retaliatory Iranian mortar attacks on Pakistani villages and Iranian drone incursions into Pakistan, one of which was shot down by a Pakistani jet.
Subsequent to the visit by the Pakistani Army Chief to Iran, however, a gathering of anti-Iranian jihadis northwest of Panjgur, were ordered to disperse by Pakistani authorities, described by villagers near map coordinates 27.179106, 63.659733.
In a more public display of Iranian-Pakistani reconciliation, during the December 3, 2017 inauguration of the Iranian port of Chabahar, the Pakistani minister for ports and shipping was standing next to the Iranian President during the ceremony. According to official sources, Pakistan “has given firm assurances to Iran that Islamabad would not become part of an initiative that targets the Islamic Republic” and Iran “has pledged that it would not allow any regional country including India to undermine Pakistan’s interests,” thus representing a “turnaround” in Pakistan’s participation in the Saudi-led counterterrorism coalition aimed at Iran.
An Iranian diplomat added, “that military and intelligence cooperation have deepened greatly in the past few months as officials from the security establishments on either side of the border speak to each other more often,” confirming the on-the-ground reports of secret meetings between Iran and Pakistan earlier in 2017.
Even only a near-term Chinese-brokered accommodation between Iran and Pakistan could represent an earthquake-like shift in the South Asian strategic environment.
That development occurs nearly in parallel with the first China-Pakistan-Afghanistan trilateral meeting in late December 2017, where Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi invited the Afghans to join the $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and pledged to step up “efforts to forge peace between Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
In the wake of recent confirmation that China will build a new naval base near Gwadar, Pakistan, the United States appears on the verge of being strategically out-maneuvered and may encounter serious geopolitical setbacks in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, not to mention the possibility of being nudged out of Afghanistan with little to show for all the blood and treasure expended.
Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired US Army Reserve colonel, an IT command and control subject matter expert, trained in Arabic and Kurdish, and a veteran of Afghanistan, northern Iraq and a humanitarian mission to West Africa. He receives email at [email protected]