Iran maintained close relations with Pakistan during much of the Cold War. Iran was the first country to recognise Pakistan as an independent state, and the Shah of Iran was the first head of state to come on a state visit to Pakistan (in March 1950). Since 1947, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, had successfully advocated a policy of fostering cordial relations with Iran in particular and the Muslim world in general. Despite Shia-Sunni divisions, Islamic identity became an important factor in shaping Iranian–Pakistani relations, especially after the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
In May 1950, a treaty of friendship was signed by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and the Shah of Iran. Some of the clauses of the treaty of friendship had wider geopolitical significance.Pakistan found a natural partner in Iran after the Indian government chose to support Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was seeking to export a pan-Arab ideology that threatened many of the more traditional Arab monarchies, a number of which were allied with the Shah. Harsh V. Pant, a foreign policy writer, noted that Iran was a natural ally and model for Pakistan for other reasons as well. Both countries granted each other MFN status for trade purposes; the shah offered Iranian oil and gas to Pakistan on generous terms, and the Iranian and Pakistani armies cooperated to suppress the rebel movement in Baluchistan. During the Shah‘s era, Iran moved closer to Pakistan in many fields. Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey joined the United States-sponsored Central Treaty Organisation, which extended a defensive alliance along the Soviet Union’s southern perimeter. Iran played an important role in the Indo-Pakistani war of 1965, providing Pakistan with nurses, medical supplies, and a gift of 5,000 tons of petroleum. Iran also indicated that it was considering an embargo on oil supplies to India for the duration of the fighting. The Indian government believed that Iran had blatantly favored Pakistan. After the suspension of United States military aid to Pakistan, Iran was reported to have purchased ninety Sabre jet fighter planes from West Germany, and to have sent them on to Pakistan.
Although Pakistan’s decision to join the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) in 1955 was largely motivated by its security imperatives regarding India, Pakistan did not sign on until Iran was satisfied that the British Government was not going to obstruct the nationalization of British oil companies in Iran. According to Dr. Mujtaba Razvi, Pakistan likely would not have joined CENTO had Iran not decided to do so.
Iran again played a vital role in Pakistan’s 1971 conflict with India, this time supplying military equipment as well as diplomatic support against India. The Shah described the Indian attack as aggression and interference in Pakistan’s domestic affairs; in an interview with a Parisian newspaper he openly acknowledged that “We are one hundred percent behind Pakistan”. Iranian Prime Minister Amir-Abbas Hoveida followed suit, saying that “Pakistan has been subjected to violence and force.” The Iranian leadership repeatedly expressed its opposition to the dismemberment of Pakistan, fearing it would adversely affect the domestic stability and security of Iran by encouraging Kurdish separatists to rise up against the Iranian government. In the same vein, Iran attempted to justify its supplying arms to Pakistan on the grounds that, in its desperation, Pakistan might fall into the Chinese lap. On the other hand, Iran changed its foreign priorities after making a move to maintain good relations with India.
The breakup of Pakistan in December 1971 convinced Iran that extraordinary effort was needed to protect the stability and territorial integrity of its eastern flank. With the emergence of Bangladesh as a separate State, the “Two-nations theory” received a severe blow and questions arose in the Iranian establishment as to whether the residual western part of Pakistan could hold together and remain a single country. Events of this period caused significant perceptional changes in Tehran regarding Pakistan.
When widespread armed insurgency broke out in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province in 1973, Iran, fearing the insurgency might spill over into its own Balochistan Province, offered large-scale support. The Iranians provided Pakistan with military hardware (including thirty Huey cobra attack helicopters), intelligence sharing, and $200 million in aid. The government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto declared its belief that, as in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, India was behind the unrest. However, the Indian government denied any involvement, and claimed that it was fearful of further balkanisation of the subcontinent. After three years of fighting the uprising was suppressed.
In addition to military aid, the Shah of Iran offered considerable developmental aid to Pakistan, including oil and gas on preferential terms. Pakistan was a developing country and small power, while Iran, in the 1960-70s, had the world’s fifth largest military and a strong industrial base, and was the clear, undisputed regional superpower. However, Iran’s total dependence on the United States at that time for its economic development and military build-up had won it the hostility of Arab world. Tensions arose in 1974, when Mohammad Reza Pahlavi refused to attend the Islamic Conference in Lahore because Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had been invited to it, despite the known hostility between the two. In 1976, Iran again played a vital and influential role by facilitating a rapprochement between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Iran’s reaction to India’s 1974 surprise nuclear test detonation (codenamed Smiling Buddha) was muted. During a state visit to Iran in 1977, Bhutto tried to persuade Pahlavi to support Pakistan’s own clandestine atomic bomb project. Although the Shah’s response is not known, there are indications that he refused to oblige Bhutto.
In July 1977, following political agitation by an opposition alliance, Bhutto was forced out of office in a military coup d’état. The new military government, under General Zia-ul-Haq, was ideologically ultraconservative and Islamically oriented in its nature and approach