The Effects of Saudi Arabia-Iran Relations on Afghanistan

By: Amin Kawa

For many years, Saudi Arabia and Iran have been engaged in proxy wars in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and Afghanistan, supporting rebel and religious groups, and using religious and cultural differences as a weapon. The two countries have sought to present themselves as the sole representatives of Islam in the Islamic world, and their tense relationship was exacerbated when Saudi Arabia executed a Shiite cleric, Nimr alNimr, on charges of terrorism. This led to protesters in Tehran attacking the Saudi Arabian embassy and consulate in Mashhad, resulting in Riyadh severing diplomatic ties with Tehran. However, after seven years of bitter competition, the two countries have now agreed to resume diplomatic relations, with China acting as a broker.

The official media of Saudi Arabia and Iran announced on Friday, August 19th, that the two sides had reached an agreement to resume bilateral relations, with the foreign ministers of the two countries set to meet soon. This agreement will see Saudi Arabia and Iran revive their security cooperation agreement, activate their embassies within two months, and resume commercial, investment, and cultural activities. Countries have welcomed this agreement, with Iranbacked Houthi militias in Yemen celebrating it as being in the interest of Islam. The White House has cautiously accepted the agreement, though they are not satisfied with the companionship of two religious and political rivals in the Middle East, as the resumption of diplomatic relations and the normalization of tensions between the two powers of the region will lead to a great alignment in the Middle East. China has declared that it does not pursueany kind of interests and is against the geopolitical competition in the region, though it appears to be planning to become an influential actor in the Middle East.

China has also expressed pride in its role as host. After signing the agreement, Wang Yi, China‘s top diplomat, stated that his country was adependable mediator thathas fulfilled its obligations as a host with great dedication. From a diplomatic standpoint, this statement is seen as a sharp rebuke and a challenge to the United States. On the other hand, the agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, facilitated by China, is viewed as a major success for the country and a geopolitical challenge to America.

Despite the longstanding religious and political differences between the two Persian Gulf countries that cannot be easily resolved through diplomatic means, this agreement is of great significance in regional geopolitics. This is because the rapprochement of Tehran and Riyadh in the Middle East and their alignment with China are contrary to the doctrines of the United States in the region. Therefore, the advancement of China‘s position in the Middle East is not acceptable to America. Without any pessimism, this agreement is at the point of confrontation between the two economic powers of the world. With this mediation, China is attempting to assume the traditional and influential role of America in the Middle East. Security in the Middle East makes energy cheaper for China, and China is now the largest buyer of Saudi Arabia‘s oil. It is unlikely that the United States will allow China to become the leader of the Middle East and facilitate Beijing‘s economic growth. America may never permit China to become the leading pole of politics and power in the Middle East.

For decades, Saudi Arabia and Iran have been vying for influence in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has backed Western initiatives to oppose Iran‘s nuclear program and has provided assistance to Israel through diplomatic channels, which is seen as the most powerful antiIranian force in the region. This country has consistently accused Iran of backing armed militia groups in the Middle East. Conversely, Iran has accused Saudi Arabia of backing terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State (ISIS).

The rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran has had a profound impact on wars throughout the Middle East, including Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria, as well as in Afghanistan outside the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has had a longstanding and religious connection to the Taliban. The proximity of this country to Iran, which is currently paying a diplomatic price and has given the Taliban control of the Afghan embassy in Tehran, will likely lead to the United States cutting ties with these countries and the Taliban, and only allowing the group to remain in the region as a force supported by the United States.

If China continues to gain power in the Middle East and become the traditional sponsor of the Taliban, this group will likely become distanced from the United States. If they do not agree, ISIS, which has already demonstrated its strength and power, could overpower the Taliban. The United Nations has reported that Al-Qaeda is living in immunity in Iran, which serves as a warning to America.

The other side of the coin should not be overlooked; Afghanistan has been embroiled in a conflict between fundamentalist groups supported by Riyadh and Tehran for many years due to religious and political differences between the two countries. However, with the positive interaction of the two countries, Afghanistan may finally be liberated. This is especially true when considering the ambitious plans of Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, who has taken a more pragmatic approach since coming to power. He has filled the deep rift between Riyadh and Doha, reduced tensions with Turkey, and is now in favor of peace talks in Yemen. He is working towards regional reconciliation and is looking to the region through an economicwinwin lens. His plans indicate that he is attempting to reform all aspects of life in Saudi Arabia. His 2030 vision plan calls for diversifying the oildependent economy by attracting tourism and foreign investment and transforming the country into a global hub for trade and culture. Consequently, reducing regional tensions is essential for achieving this political ambition and can lead to stability and security in the area. However, depending on the circumstances and the perspective of political actors, it can be said that the Middle East will not be a region of Chinese presence in the near future, as it is a major player in the world energy market. America and Europe view the Middle East as a substitute for Russia in the energy market and will not permit China to expand its influence in this region, but what comes as a result of this confrontation is undoubtedly the more comprehensive presence of radical forces in Afghanistan and the surrounding area.