The town of Parachinar, located in a far-flung corner of western Pakistan, is fondly called by some Iranian Shiites “Little Iran.” The majority of the town’s residents are ethnic Pashtuns who belong to the Shia faith. It is also the capital of Kurram Agency, one of the seven tribal districts that make up the politically volatile Federally Administrated Tribal Areas. In recent years, Parachinar has effectively been under siege by Sunni militants. Since 2007, waves of sectarian violence have killed hundreds of Shia from Parachinar. In reaction to this, Parachinar has become a potent symbol of Shia suffering, and the plight of its Shia residents has become a rallying cry for elements of the Iranian regime.
The Iranian-Turkish conflict about the future of the Assad regime in Syria has the potential to set back relations between Ankara and Tehran by decades. However, the conflict has not reached a tipping point and it is unlikely to do so as long as the Iranian-Turkish rivalry is limited only to tactical efforts by each side in shaping the power struggle in Syria. What will significantly change the Iran-Turkey-Syria equation is if Tehran concludes that Turkey is leading a protracted US-backed drive to bring about regime changes in the Middle East and that “Libyan model” can be repeated first in Syria and later in Iran. Absent of such a scenario, Iran is neither overly free to shape the outcome in Syria nor reliant on the Syrian regime to the degree where it will risk all other regional interests to prop up Assad. Seen from Tehran, the potential loss of the Assad regime is a recoverable strategic setback if it does not have a spillover effect that directly challenges the Islamic Republic’s grip on power in Tehran. Iran’s relations with Syria were from the beginning a marriage of convenience and plenty of suspicion existed in Damascus-Tehran relations before the Arab Spring. The post-Saddam Shia elite in Baghdad have already turned Iraq into Tehran’s key Arab ally and regional priority.
Iran-Qatar relations face unprecedented uncertainty. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cancelled a planned trip to Doha in November 2011, and anti-Qatari Iranian rhetoric is at an all-time high. From Tehran’s perspective, Qatar has dangerously raised the stakes by spearheading Arab efforts to remove the Iranian-backed regime of Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus. Still, while Iran strongly resents Qatar’s so-called adventurism in Syria, Tehran’s hands are somewhat tied as it ponders a possible alternative approach towards Doha. The simple fact is that Iran badly wants to maintain whatever entente it still has among Arab countries in an era of Arab-Iranian tension—and the undeniable rise in tensions between Iran and Qatar have to be viewed in this context.