ISLAMABAD - Pakistan will not become part of any grouping against Iran as it believed in close ties with the neighbour, Islamabad conveyed to Tehran ahead of President Hassan Rouhani’s visit.

Last day, Iranian ambassador to Pakistan Mehdi Honardoost said President Rouhani will visit Pakistan this month, which will provide opportunity to both the countries to discuss important issues.

Recently, Pakistan lifted sanctions against Iran, following the international lines after the country’s nuclear deal with world powers. At the start of this year Pakistan initiated efforts to ease Iran-Saudi Arabia tensions after Saudi Arabia executed 47 people on terrorism charges including Nimr al-Nimr, a Shia leader, and Fares Al-Shuwail al-Zahrani, a convicted Al-Qaeda leader.

The execution of Nimr spurred Iranian demonstrators into ransacking the Saudi embassy in Tehran, prompting several Saudi allies to break off diplomatic ties with Iran.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has since been in contact with the top Iran and Saudi leadership to defuse the tension. PM Sharif held talks with Saudi King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz and President Rouhani convincing them to resolve the disputes on the table.

Officials said besides the regional tensions, the Iran-Pakistan gas will be the most notable topic on agenda. Pakistan needed Iran’s energy, steel, and petrochemicals and Iran could be a good market for Pakistan’s agricultural, sports, and medical products. IP pipeline project - also called Peace Pipeline – is aimed at constructing pipeline from Iran’s South Pars fields in the Persian Gulf to Pakistan’s major cities of Karachi and Multan. The pipeline can carry 110 million cubic meters of gas a day. Iran will initially transfer 30 million cubic meters of gas per day to Pakistan, but will eventually increase the gas transfer to 60 million cubic meters per day.

Iranian ambassador Mehdi Honardoost reiterated President Rouhani’s upcoming visit to Islamabad would prepare grounds for bilateral trade enhancement.

He stressed the need for enhanced trade and commerce relations between Pakistan and Iran and said both the countries shared historic cordial relations. Honardoost also expressed confidence in the leadership of Pakistan, saying Islamabad has taken wise stance on regional developments including Yemen and Syria.

“The government of Pakistan is wise and will consider all sides of Saudi-led military coalition. In appearance it looks to be a peace alliance but I am sure the government of Pakistan can see the other side as well,” he added.

A senior government official told The Nation, Pakistan had conveyed top Iran leadership that it was as important to Islamabad as Saudi Arabia. “We have told them we can mediate but cannot become a party against Iran. We cannot prefer one friend over the other,” the official said citing the communication.

He said Iran was satisfied with Pakistan’s role so far and had pledged to enhance the existing friendly ties. “Iran is not against our friendship with Saudi Arabia but feels any anti-Iran alliance would not be acceptable. We have told them we will never be standing against Iran,” the official said.

Another official said Pakistan was ready to listen to any complaints from Iran and try to resolve the misconceptions. “There are elements who try to create misunderstandings. Our close ties will not allow them to intrude. We have agreed the issues will be resolved in high level talks and steps would be taken to improve ties between all the Muslim countries,” the official added.

Earlier, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said President Rouhani’s would be an opportunity to discuss important issues between the two nations. Asif said lifting of economic sanctions on Iran will help expand bilateral trade. He added that Pak-Iran gas pipeline project was an example of good relations between both the countries.

After the independence of Pakistan in August 1947, Iran had the unique distinction of being the first country to internationally recognise its sovereign status.

Currently, both countries are economic partners. This cooperation lasted throughout the Cold War, with Iran supporting Pakistan in its conflicts with arch-rival, India.

In return, Pakistan supported Iran militarily during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Since 2000, relations between the two states have been relatively normalised and economical and military collaboration has strengthened the relationship. Both countries are founding members of the Economic Cooperation Organisation.

Recent difficulties have included disputes over trade, and political position. While Pakistan’s foreign policy maintains balanced relations with Saudi Arabia, the United States, and the European Union, Iran tends to warn against it, and raised concerns about Pakistan’s alleged backing of the Taliban during the fourth phase of civil war in Afghanistan in the last years of the 20th century.

Nevertheless, economic and trade relations continued to expand in both absolute and relative terms, leading to the signing of a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries in 1999. At present, both countries are cooperating and forming alliances in a number of areas of mutual interest, such as fighting the drug trade along their common border and combating Afghan tribal insurgency along their border.

Iran has been a respected, popular, and favoured nation among Pakistanis, with 76% of Pakistanis viewing their western neighbour positively, making Pakistan the most pro-Iran nation in the world.

Defence analyst Lt. General Amjad Shoaib (retd) said Pakistan will definitely perform advisory role in Saudi-led military alliance but other countries have their own political significance in the world. “Pakistan needs a cautious foreign policy in this regard because we need to sustain our relations with Iran,” he said. General Shoaib said the upcoming visit of Iranian President to Pakistan will improve the bilateral ties.

Zafar Jaspal, a senior political analyst, said Pakistani leadership has adopted a rational approach to the Middle East crisis up till now. “I am optimistic Pakistan will be successful in reducing the tension between the two Muslim countries,” he added.