April 23, 2021
Pakistan and Iran signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Wednesday evening to establish joint border markets in efforts to strengthen cross-border economic exchanges and crack down on illegal border trade.
The agreement was signed during a three-day official visit by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to Tehran, where he has held delegation-level talks with his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif and also met President Hassan Rouhani and Speaker of Iran’s Parliament, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf.
“Foreign Minister underlined that vast potential existed which could be tapped to further strengthen trade and economic relations,” the foreign ministry said in a statement about Qureshi’s meeting with Zarif.
In a Twitter post, Qureshi said the “border sustenance marketplaces” would lead to the economic uplift of border communities and give locals a formal means to engage in commerce:
As per the agreement, six market places are to be established on the border between Pakistan’s Balochistan province and the Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchestan, Pakistan’i state-run news agency APP reported.
In recent years, relations between Iran and Pakistan have been strained with both sides accusing each other of not doing enough to stamp out militants allegedly sheltering across their 900-km border.
In 2019, the two nations said they would form a joint quick reaction force to combat militant activity on their shared border, frequently used for trade and by minority Shia Muslims who travel from Pakistan to Iran for religious pilgrimages.
While trade and border issues are the main feature of Qureshi’s trip, rights activists called it a “great opportunity” for Pakistan to bring up the matter of bringing home 65 Pakistani prisoners under a prisoner transfer agreement signed with Tehran in 2014.
“Iran has released thousands of prisoners since the pandemic first struck,” the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), a prisoner rights group, said in a tweet. “This is an opportunity for Pakistan to bring back its citizens so they can serve the remainder of their sentences closer to their families in these uncertain times.”