Iran and Afghanistan have much in common to bind them together, but also many differences that distinguish them from one another. Their shared cross-border cultural, linguistic, ethnic and sectarian linkages, as well as security imperatives, strongly underpin their need for good and peaceful neighbourly coexistence. Yet, this has been, both historically and in contemporary times, punctuated from time to time by their divergent domestic and foreign policy outlooks and security postures, as well as the capacity to influence each other in support of their national and regional priorities. Resourceful Iran has had more power of dispersion and extraction in the relationship than the largely poor and turbulent Afghanistan. The resultant imbalances have endowed Tehran with more bargaining capabilities than that of Kabul in the two sides’ prioritisation of their policies towards one another.
While it is tempting to try to contextualise the evolution of Iran-Afghanistan relations historically, the focus of this article is primarily the shared and divergent interests that have come to shape their relations, mainly during the US-led intervention in Afghanistan over the last two decades, an intervention that will terminate soon. The analysis is largely from an Iranian angle, with emphasis on three main issues. The first is to explore the main objectives of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s policy behaviour towards Afghanistan. The second is to assess the degree of leverage of influence that Tehran may have managed to secure so that the changing Afghan situation does not adversely affect Iran’s national and regional interests, and the means and methods by which Tehran has sought to advance its objectives. The third is to examine briefly where Iran is likely to stand in relation to a post-US Afghanistan.