Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is expected to visit Pakistan this week to discuss how to improve relations between the two nations and strengthen economic ties, Islamabad’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Rouhani “will have an exchange of views on strengthening bilateral relations, particularly after lifting sanctions on Iran that has opened new avenues for enhancing economic interaction,” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The Ministry continued by saying that “Rouhani would also discuss cooperation on regional and international issues during his visit on Friday and Saturday,” adds the Pakistani daily Dawn.
In January, PM Sharif visited Iran to try to ease tensions between the Shiite nation and its regional rival Sunni Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Tehran in early January after protesters burned Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran. Iranians were angry at the Saudi kingdom’s execution of prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr in early January.
Pakistan is counting on a joint project with Iran to solve a long-running power crisis that has sapped economic growth and left its 200 million people fuming at incessant electricity cuts.
A $7.5-billion Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline intended to feed Pakistani power plants was inaugurated with great fanfare in March 2013.
But the project immediately hit quicksand in the form of the international sanctions on Tehran, which meant that cash-strapped Pakistan struggled to raise the money to build its section.
Tehran has already built its own section of the 1,800-kilometer (1,100-mile) pipeline, which should eventually link its South Pars gas fields to the city of Nawabshah near Karachi.
China has reportedly begun constructing the section of the pipeline between Nawabshah and the port of Gwadar near the Iranian border. The ambitious $46 billion project is expected to link western China to the Middle East through Pakistan.
Once China completes the section between Nawabshah and Gwadar, Pakistan will build the last estimated 50 miles to Iran.
The Journal notes:
Since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, Pakistan has been much closer to Saudi Arabia, which has provided Islamabad with significant financial help. Saudi Arabia gave Pakistan $1.5 billion in 2013, shoring up desperately low foreign-exchange reserves. But in recent years, Pakistan has worked to improve ties with Iran, in part to foster domestic stability. About 20% of Pakistan’s population is Shiite.