Exploring Iran & Saudi Arabia’s Interests in Afghanistan & Pakistan

Exploring Iran & Saudi Arabia’s Interests in Afghanistan & Pakistan: Stakeholders or Spoilers - A Zero Sum Game? Part 2: Iran

Publication date:
Rouzbeh Parsi

Policy Research Papers

April 2013

The paper will briefly describe, from the Iranian perspective, what kind of relationship Tehran has with Afghanistan, and how this in turn relates to its complicated relations with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. These inter-relationships may at times be interpreted in terms of a larger Sunni-Shi’a ideological confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but as the paper will show the motivations and behaviour of the actors cannot be reduced to a ‘simply’ sectarian drive.

It is a basic premise of this paper that Iran’s main objectives are not to be found in some ideological universe detached from reality, but are of the kind that can be situated and understood in terms of realpolitik and interests. The religious-ideological element is not irrelevant but it is neither determining, in short in itself insufficient to explain Iranian behaviour, nor is it that often necessary for explaining the actions of Tehran.

One of the over-arching goals that the Islamic republic shares with its predecessor is to be recognised as a regional major power, something that will entail making a stop in Tehran a sine qua non for solving any regional issue or problem. The flip side is that non-recognition incentivises Tehran to hark back to its revolutionary heritage of going against the grain of the status quo, in short to act as a spoiler. In relation to both Iraq and Afghanistan, Tehran has shown its capability and willingness to do both, and the destructive force of its capabilities has been painfully felt, in the apt Brazilian saying invoked by Ambassador Roberto Toscano: “to create difficulty in order to sell facility”.