The recent tension between Iran and Afghanistan has manifested itself in verbal arguments and accompanying field conflicts. The clashes between the Taliban forces and Iranian soldiers were soon followed by the world.
The question of “how to solve” the problems experienced by Iran and Afghanistan, which are already at two opposite poles politically, gained importance. So, why does the problem occur?
What is the root of the problem?
The problem between the two neighboring countries stems from the issue of transboundary waters, which frequently occupies the international agenda and exists between many neighbors. The increase in drought due to global warming and the decrease in precipitation have made the issue of transboundary waters even more important in water-poor countries.
For example, the possibility of the Nile Delta being dehydrated in Egypt, where most of the agriculture is done, made the war talk. The Renaissance Dam that Ethiopia built on the Nile River has been Africa’s biggest agenda for years. It is a difficult issue that can lead to a hot conflict between the two countries.
Here, the main source of the problem between Kabul and Tehran is the rivers originating in Afghanistan and flowing into the sea from Iran…
In fact, the water problem on the Hilmend Waterway between Afghanistan and Iran was resolved with the agreement reached in 1973.
Under the agreement, Afghanistan had committed to supplying Iran with 26 cubic meters of water per second “under normal conditions” through the waterway. While 22 cubic meters of this was defined as “Iran’s right to water”, 4 cubic meters was designated as Afghanistan’s “goodwill indicator” towards Iran, but the “normal conditions” expression in the agreement does not cover periods of water shortage or drought.
However, Afghanistan, which can only use 30 percent of the water it has due to the lack of infrastructure, has undergone an intense dam construction process, especially after Ashraf Ghani became president in 2014.
In this context, nearly 20 dams were planned to be built in the region within the borders of Herat, Helmend, Nirmruz and Farah provinces on the Iranian border of Afghanistan.
Many settlements in the eastern region of Iran, one of the driest countries in the world, meet their water needs largely from the rivers flowing into their lands from Afghanistan. As such, the dam projects initiated by the Kabul administration in the region are disturbing Tehran.
Iran has repeatedly accused Afghanistan of abandoning its commitments and changing the direction of the river.
The construction of the Kajaki Dam and the Kemal Khan Dam led to the lowering of the water level from the river. Even during the seasons when the river witnessed flooding within Afghan territory, the water did not reach Iran.
Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, at the opening of the Kemal Khan Dam, emphasized that the Helmand River has emerged from Afghanistan for years, that today the administration is in the hands of Afghans and that he will exchange water with Iran in exchange for oil.
Iran, former President Hassan Rouhani protested the statements of Ashraf Ghani at that time and defended his right to receive his share of the Helmand River waters.
During the severe drought that occurred in the region between 1998-2001, the Taliban closed the Helmand river and this situation seriously affected the Sistan-Baluchestan region of Iran.
While agricultural activities in the region were almost on the verge of extinction, hundreds of thousands of people had to migrate from the region. Iran brought the issue to the UN, and at the same time tried to take measures by urgently building dams in the border region.
“Speaking between the Taliban and Iran”
Recently, Iran’s Balochistan region is facing water scarcity.
The drying up of Lake Hâmun, into which the Helmend River flows, is the most important life-threatening factor in the region. Iranians think that the reason for the drying up of the lake is the dams built on the Helmend River.
So much so that the Iranians are asking their authorities to ensure that Iran’s share of water reaches the country’s lands in their protest demonstrations.
Iranian President Ibrahim Reisi did not hesitate to openly threaten the Taliban on this issue.
“I tell the Afghan rulers not to deal with our demands normally. They need to contact us seriously. I warn the authorities and administrators in Afghanistan to quickly meet the demands of citizens in the Sistan and Balochistan region.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Hussein Emir Abdullahiyan said, “According to the agreement, this is Iran’s natural right. If necessary, pressure tools will be used for a part of the Afghan government that does not cooperate with Iran on this issue.”
Responses from Afghanistan to Iran were not delayed.
Taliban Spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid stated that they are committed to the agreement signed between Afghanistan and Iran in 1973, which resolved the water problem on the Hilmand River at that time, and the implementation of the commitments arising from the agreement.
Emphasizing that the water level in the Hhilmand River has dropped significantly due to the recent severe drought in Afghanistan and that there is not enough water in the river, Mujahid noted that the commitments arising from the agreement can be implemented if there is sufficient water.
The spokesperson of the Taliban underlined that there is no water even in the Kemal Khan Dam in Afghanistan’s Nimruz province on the Iranian border.
“If the water in Kajeki Dam is released, it will not be able to reach there (Kemal Khan Dam). Therefore, the Iranian side needs to realize these facts. In such a situation, we find Iran’s repeated demand for water and inappropriate statements in the media harmful. “If it is not handled properly and such statements are made, the political climate between the two countries could be damaged. This is not in the interest of either side and should not be repeated.”
One of Afghanistan’s top military leaders also addressed the Iranian President as he went to a riverside and filled a plastic container.
“Take this water and stop threatening. Don’t threaten us any more than that. We’re afraid of you.”
The tension between the officials of the two countries over water also reflected on the field. First, the images that both countries sent soldiers to the border were reflected in the press.
Two Iranian border guards were killed in clashes with Taliban soldiers.
Upon this incident, high-dose messages started to come from both Iran and Afghanistan.
Abdulhamid Khorasani, known as Nasser Badri, one of the leading figures in the Taliban government, released a video and said that “Taliban soldiers will fight with greater enthusiasm than the fight against the Americans.”
A week later, clashes broke out again at the border.
Iran claimed that the clashes were caused by Taliban elements trying to infiltrate Iranian territory.
In addition, the images released showed that the Taliban members were firing heavy weapons at the border posts on the Iranian side.
On May 27, violent clashes and intense gunfire were heard on the Iran-Afghanistan border. Iran’s Balochistan border security unit announced that “unidentified gunmen” were plotting to enter Iran from Afghanistan, which led to clashes.