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Pakistan army chief makes historic visit to Iran

Pakistan's army chief paid a rare visit to Iran's civil and military leadership in a bid for military cooperation.

In a visit to Iran to boost military relations, Pakistan’s chief of army staff, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, expressed interest in learning from Iran’s Basij Organization. The meeting between the two countries at the military level was hailed in Iranian media as a new era in Iran-Pakistan military relations.

Speaking to Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Bajwa said, “We believe the most important factor in your success against enemies is the support of the people, and I hope this trip will be the basis for transferring to Pakistan the experience of the Basij and the example of the Iranian people’s forces.”

The Basij Organization, which formally operates under the IRGC, was created after the 1979 Islamic Revolution on the orders of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran and former supreme leader. It was not until after the Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980 that the Basij took on a life of its own and became a popular force for its role on the front lines. Basij popularity took a hit after the 2009 presidential election, in which its forces played a significant role in quelling protests. Iranian officials have claimed that Basij membership is in the millions, which may be technically accurate. However, full-time, active membership is likely 100,000.

Despite some differences on regional issues, the two military leaders heaped praise on each other’s countries and promised greater military cooperation. “The mutual cultural and linguistic similarities of a part of Pakistan and Iran shows the depth of this relationship,” said Jafari. He added, “With the existence of conspiracies and treachery of the enemies against Islam and regional countries, with respect to the past, Iran and Pakistan’s relationship will become deeper.”

In reference to the experiences of Iran’s armed forces during the Iran-Iraq War, Jafari said, “The presence of the people in defending the Islamic Revolution and the homeland resulted in changing the fate of the war.” The United States, Western European countries and nearly all of the Arab countries supported former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran, which was under sanctions and was forced to rely on volunteer forces such as the Basij. Jafari called the people’s forces such as the Basij the “most important component of the Sacred Defense,” which is what the Iran-Iraq War is called in Iran.

To what degree Iran’s wartime experiences, especially the evolution and formation of the Basij, can be transferred to Pakistan remains to be seen. Iran does, however, have experience in building up and supporting forces in Iraq and Syria. Of Iran’s efforts in helping the Iraqi and Syrian governments to build up a people’s force, Jafari said, “Today, this example has been transferred to other countries. And in Syria and Iraq — when the decision was made for the entrance of the people into the war — their presence was organized, and the defense of the people alongside the army turned the page against Daesh [the Islamic State] and marked the defeat of takfiris.”

During his three-day visit, Bajwa also met with President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri.

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