Lahore, 21 October 2021 (TDI): Iranian Consul General, Muhammad Raza Nazri urged Pakistan to remove Covid-19 related travel restrictions. He stated this during an engagement with the entrepreneurs at the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Since the beginning of the Covid19 outbreak, Pakistan and Iran Imposed a bilateral travel restrictions on each other. Iran later removed these restrictions on Pakistan. On the directions of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), Pakistan travel restrictions were revised in June 2021. The revised arrangements on the inbound air and land travel again restricted Iran. The travel restrictions places Iran in C category.

Iran is not the only country experiencing Pakistan’s closed borders but a list of other countries is included. Other countries included are India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Indonesia, Iraq, the Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Tunisia, Bolivia, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Namibia, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad, Tobago, and Uruguay.

Travel restrictions

The travel ban is not just affecting tourism between the two countries but is equally affecting the trade. The Iranian Consul General stated that Iran has removed the travel ban long ago therefore, Pakistan should also remove such restrictions. His regrets extended to the issue of visas. Muhammad Nazri expressed that Pakistan’s Visa issuance process is not speedy, while the Tehran consulate in Islamabad issues travel documents without any delay.

Restrictions’ impacts on trade

Related to the trade, Muhammad Nazri highlighted the downward trajectory in the trade volume between Pakistan and Iran. He urged that “The Iranian trucks should be allowed to enter Pakistan”. Another factor that is impeding the trade between the two countries is Pakistan’s Imposition of a 50 percent duty on Iranian apples. Iranian Consul General also urged for the reduction in this duty. Adding more to the trade talk, he expressed that despite US sanctions, Iran has a huge potential in the realm of trade. He also briefly discussed an arrangement discussed between the Iranian and Pakistani counterparts on Barter Trade. The consideration discussed between the two counterparts was to reach an agreement where Pakistan would export denim and rice in exchange for electricity from Tehran. The agreement failed to materialize due to refusal by the State Bank of Pakistan. The arrangement is still pending.

Visa Process

Iran’s speedy issuances of the visa have been possible due to online submission of the Visa application. This development made it mandatory for Pakistani tourists to submit their applications online. They updated their website in April 2017 and made an online portal for the applicants. Digitalizing the process has helped ease the process for tourists. Iranian Tourists seeking a Pakistan’ Visa have to go through the official website and process an online application. It is however required for the Iranian tourists to present an Invitation letter to the consulate. Iran and Pakistan share an internationally recognized border which consists of 959 kilometers. The international border between the two countries demarcates Pakistan’s Balochistan province from Iran’s Sistan Province. The safest transit by road is to travel using the Iran-Pakistan border crossing at Taftan and Zahedan every year.

Pakistan-Iran Diplomatic relations

Iran was the first country to recognize the independence and sovereign status of Pakistan. Iran and Pakistan’s relationship over history have remained largely eclectic. The two countries initially came closer with the Baghdad Pact (Central Treaty Organization, CENTO) in the 1950s. Both are also the founding members of Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO).  The two states managed to come closer once again in 2012 after the project Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline started. After the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline was introduced, the two countries engaged in bilateral trade. The trade today has been largely compromised by the imposition of Covid-19 related restrictions. It is therefore imperative for Pakistan to rule out the negative spillover effects caused by the pause in the bilateral trade.