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At first glance, Iran appears to be unconvinced about Afghanistan’s new President Ashraf Ghani, and the feeling is probably mutual. Ghani chose Saudi Arabia, China and then Pakistan as the first countries to visit as president, and has yet to visit Tehran. 

Iran’s ambivalence toward Ghani’s rise to power in Kabul still cannot lessen Tehran’s interest in remaining a key actor on the Afghan scene. Nor should it. Iran is, after all, one of the largest stakeholders in the future of Afghanistan. Thanks to its geographic proximity, Afghan affairs — good or bad — have an instant impact on Iran.

And yet, Tehran’s Afghan policy is out of date. Security-centric, it mostly focuses on Afghanistan’s Shiite and ethnic Tajik minorities and lacks a long-term holistic vision. Worst of all, Iran policy has for too long been embedded in a zero-sum-game mentality that invariably pits Iran against not only the United States but also Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. For it not to fall behind the curve, Tehran first must come to terms with a lasting US interest in Afghanistan as serving Iranian interests on a number of fronts.

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