The concept of soft power was developed at the end of the Cold War to examine international influence through non-coercive means. In recent years, a growing field of research has drawn on this concept to examine the role of religion and culture in the foreign policies of Middle Eastern states. The existing research tends to view soft power from the perspectives of states that project such influence, not the impact of these policies on target societies, and tends to overlook the relationship between hard and soft power strategies. To address this gap, we draw on an original survey data and face-to-face interviews to evaluate Iran’s influence in Afghanistan. This study examines the response in Afghanistan to key pillars of Iranian soft power projection: the role of shared language and culture, religion and Tehran’s Third Worldist ideology of resistance against Western powers. This research finds that Iran’s soft power projection strategy is undermined by structural hard power imbalances between the two countries and Tehran’s contradictory policies towards Afghanistan.