Saudi Arabia’s support for Afghanistan has been steady but inconspicuous over the years. But that is about to change. The powerful Sunni-majority kingdom is embarking on a very public effort to carve out a bigger role in Afghanistan, pitting the oil-rich Gulf state directly against Shi’ite rival Iran in the race for influence as foreign forces leave.
That much became clear on October 29, when the Afghan government announced that Riyadh would build a multi-million-dollar Islamic complex in Kabul, marking its largest and most expensive foray into post-9/11 Afghanistan.
The project, which is expected to cost between US$45 million and $100 million, was agreed between the two countries in Jeddah. Construction is expected to begin next year. The Islamic complex will cover 24 hectares on Maranjan Hill in central Kabul.