AOPNEWS | January 7, 2016
As relations continue to sour between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Afghan leaders, such as Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah are expressing their concerns about the escalating tensions. Abdullah stated that the increased tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia will harm Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s Ulema Council, which includes both Sunni and Shiite religious scholars also issued a statement today urging Iran and Saudi Arabia to resolve their differences through negotiations, and that tensions between the two major Islamic nations could have a negative impact not just in Afghanistan but the whole Islamic world.
Currently, Afghanistan has good relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, and both countries are involved in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is hoping to use the Chabahar port in Iran as an alternative to the Gwadar port in Pakistan to conduct trade. Furthermore, Iran has participated in building numerous roads, school buildings, and other structures. Saudi Arabia has financed the building of religious centers and Masjids. Some Afghan officials fear major violence may break out between Sunni and Shiite Muslims if tensions don’t calm down quickly.
The crises between Saudi Arabia and Iran started when Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr on January 2nd on terrorism charges. On numerous occasions, Nimr publicly criticized the Saudi government, and said that the Saudis were oppressing Shiites in the country. Public criticism of the Saudi government is illegal in Saudi Arabia. In fact, Saudi Arabian law even equates “atheism” with “terrorism”.
Shortly after the execution, protesters in Iran attacked and set fire to the Saudi embassy. The Iranian authorities put an end to the demonstrations and arrested many of the perpetrators. However, the Saudi’s blamed the Iranian government for the demonstrations and announced the cut-off of diplomatic relations. Besides Iran, people protested the execution of Nimr in Pakistan, Bahrain, and even Indian Kashmir. Following Saudi Arabia, other Arab states such as Kuwait and Bahrain also cut relations with Iran. In response, Iran imposed a ban on Saudi products today.
Protests are occurring in neighboring Pakistan who has a 10-15 percent Shiite minority. In Afghanistan, the Tabian Social and Cultural Center of Afghanistan blasted the Saudi government and said they are trying to create differences among Muslims, according to a report today from Tolo News. There are some Afghans who side with Iran, and some who side with the Saudis, however, most Afghans would rather remain neutral, and are distrustful of both countries. Iran is blamed for bad treatment of Afghan refugees, and Afghans remember how the Saudis had initially supported the Taliban. Saudi Arabia was the 2nd country, after Pakistan, to recognize the Taliban as the official government of Afghanistan after they had taken control of Kabul back in the 1990s. Afghans are also against extremist Saudi religious influence in their country.
Similar to Pakistan, Afghanistan also has a 10-15 percent Shiite minority population. Unlike Pakistan, relations between Shiites and Sunnis are for the most part very good. Most don’t want to see Afghan Shiites and Afghan Sunnis killing each other over Iran and Saudi Arabia.