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Iranian President Arrives In Pakistan To Mend Ties

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi arrived in Islamabad on Monday on a three-day official visit, his first after unprecedented tit-for-tat military strikes this year.

The visit comes as the two Muslim neighbors seek to mend ties about three months after Pakistan launched airstrikes against several locations in southeastern Iran following Iran’s Revolutionary Guards hitting targets inside the Pakistani territory.

Both sides emphasized that the attacks were meant to target “terrorist hideouts” and not the civilians. Several children and women were killed in both attacks. Iran’s IRGC claimed their missiles and suicide drones targeted two bases of the Sunni militant group Jaish al-Adl while Pakistan claimed the operation was against “Sarmachar,” a term that means insurgents or rebels in general. Iranian officials have rejected Islamabad’s allegations about the presence of Pakistani terrorists in the city where the attack took place.

The cross-border attacks have escalated tensions between Iran and Pakistan although both countries insist that Baloch separatist factions were the main target of the strikes. Earlier in April, the insurgent Sunni Baluch group launched simultaneous attacks against military posts in southeastern Iran, which left at least 11 security forces dead.

“The Iranian president is accompanied by his spouse and a high-level delegation,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement, adding that the group also included the foreign minister, other cabinet members and senior officials.

Raisi is scheduled to hold meetings with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and several other officials, besides visiting the eastern city of Lahore and southern port city of Karachi, it added.

Major highways in Islamabad were blocked as part of the security measures for Raisi’s arrival, while the government declared a public holiday in Karachi.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif greets Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on his three-day official visit in Islamabad, Pakistan April 22, 2024.

Raisi’s visit is a key step towards normalizing ties with Islamabad, but Iran’s supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, not the president, has the last say on state matters, such as nuclear policy.

Tension is also high in the Middle East after Iran launched an unprecedented attack on Israel a week ago, saying the attack was in retaliation to an airstrike on its consulate in Damascus. Several IRGC men, including a high-ranking general was killed. A few days after Iran’s attack against Israel, central Iran in turn suffered what sources said was an Israeli attack on Friday. Radar systems and S300 defense missile systems were targeted at a military base near Isfahan (Esfahan).

Pakistan and Iran have had a history of rocky relations despite a number of commercial pacts, with Islamabad being historically closer to Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Their highest profile agreement is a stalled gas supply deal signed in 2010 to build a pipeline from Iran’s South Fars gas field to Pakistan’s southern provinces of Balochistan and Sindh.

Despite Pakistan’s dire need of gas, Islamabad has yet to begin construction of its part of the pipeline, citing fears over US sanctions.

Pakistan said it would seek waivers from the US, but Washington has said it does not support the project and warned of the risk of sanctions in doing business with Tehran.

Faced with the possibility of contract breach penalties running into the billions of dollars, Islamabad recently gave the go-ahead for construction of an 80-km (50-mile) stretch of the pipeline.