ISLAMABAD - Leaders of Pakistan and Iran agreed Monday to expand border security cooperation to fight terrorist groups waging deadly attacks in both countries, and vowed to continue joint efforts to help bring peace to their conflict-ravaged neighbor Afghanistan.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who arrived in Iran on his first official visit a day earlier, discussed the details at a joint news conference after concluding extensive delegation-level talks on strengthening bilateral security, economic and trade ties.
"We have agreed to expand our security and intelligence cooperation, particularly in border areas, and we also agreed to set up a joint rapid reaction force in order to guard our common borders," Rohani said while speaking through his interpreter. The Iranian leader said he was confident Khan's visit would be "a turning point" in improving bilateral relations.
Prime Minister Khan also acknowledged the border security issue figured high in his discussions, citing recent terrorist attacks in both countries, which share a frontier of more than 900-kilometers. He noted his two-day visit to Iran was primarily aimed to resolve the issue of terrorism before it increases mutual differences.
"So, the (Pakistani) security chief will be sitting with his counterpart here, and today they will be discussing ways of cooperation so that we have trust in each other that both countries will not allow any terrorist activity from their soil and we hope that this will build confidence between us," Khan said.
Khan's visit comes after Pakistan asked Iran to take action against terrorist groups believed to be behind last week's killing of 14 Pakistani soldiers. Islamabad strong protested and said in a formal letter to the Iranian government that the assailants came from an alliance of three Baluch terrorist organizations based in Iran. The attack took place in Gwadar district in the sparsely populated largest Pakistani province of Baluchistan.
Tehran has repeatedly alleged in recent years that anti-Iran Sunni Muslim extremist group Jaish al-Adl uses Pakistani soil for carrying out deadly raids in southeastern Iranian Sistan-Baluchistan border province.
Earlier this year, Tehran called on Islamabad to take action against the militants it blamed for a suicide car bombing that killed 27 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
Iran alleges Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, both having traditionally close ties with Pakistan, are providing support to the militants. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have recently pledged billions of dollars in new investments in Pakistan, including a $10 billion Saudi oil refinery and petrochemical complex in Gwadar, a move analysts say is fueling security concerns in Tehran.
Khan attempted to assure Iran his country is determined not to allow its soil to be used against anyone, pointing to Islamabad's "unprecedented" successes against terrorism.
"We have come to the conclusion that we will not allow any militant groups to operate from our soil. This government, for the first time in Pakistan, is dismantling any militant group in our country and this is not from outside pressure," the Pakistani leader stressed.
Both Khan and President Rohani said they also discussed the need for enhancing cooperation to promote a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan. Iran and Pakistan still jointly host about six million Afghan refugees, fleeing decades of conflict and persecution in their country.
"It is in the interest of both our countries that there is peace in Afghanistan. We will cooperate with each other in helping bring a political settlement there," said the Pakistani prime minister
Rohani, while speaking Monday, again denounced the United States for "insulting" Iran's IRGC by declaring it as a foreign terrorist organization.