International Relations

The Helmand Water Conflict

  • Iran and Afghanistan have been at odds for a long time over the distribution of water from the Helmand River.
  • In the recent past, there have been violent clashes at the two countries’ border.

Concerning the Helmand River

  • The Helmand River is Afghanistan’s longest river, stretching around 1,150 kilometres (715 miles).
  • It originates in the western Hindu Kush mountain range near Kabul.
  • The river travels south-west across desert terrain before draining into Lake Hamun, which spans the Afghanistan-Iran border.
  • Lake Hamun, which is supplied by the Helmand River, is Iran’s largest freshwater lake.
  • The Helmand River is an important source of water for both Afghanistan and Iran, sustaining agriculture, livelihoods, and ecosystems in the region.

Row across the Helmand River and Lake Hamun.

  • Afghanistan’s longest river: The Helmand River, which originates near Kabul and flows through arid areas, is extremely important to Afghanistan.
  • Lake Hamun, located on the Afghanistan-Iran border, is Iran’s largest freshwater lake and has historically been supported by the Helmand River.
  • Drought has caused a severe drop in water levels and has largely dried up, which has been ascribed to reasons such as drought and the development of dams and water management equipment.
  • Lake Hamun is economically significant because it supports agricultural activities, livelihoods, and economic sectors in the surrounding areas.

Conflicts between Iran and Afghanistan (Taliban)

  • The Helmand River Treaty of 1973 has been tainted: The 1973 agreement between Iran and Afghanistan to govern river water allocation has not been fully approved or adequately implemented.
  • Iran accuses Afghanistan of breaking its water rights: Iran has consistently accused Afghanistan of abusing its water rights, claiming that it receives far less water than was agreed upon in the 1973 deal.
  • Afghanistan cites climatic variables for decreased water flow: Afghanistan has denied Iran’s charges, citing meteorological factors such as decreased rainfall and river water volume as the key causes of the current situation.
  • Concerns over Afghanistan’s dam and irrigation projects: Tehran is concerned about Afghanistan’s plans to build dams, reservoirs, and irrigation systems along the Helmand River, fearing that these projects may reduce water flow into Iran.

A recent summary of Tehran-Taliban relations

  • Previously established relations between Iran and the Taliban: Prior to the Taliban’s conquest of Kabul, Iran maintained diplomatic connections with the group, owing to a common antipathy to US forces in the region.
  • The Taliban regime is not officially recognised: Despite its refusal to openly recognise the Taliban regime, Iran has collaborated with the Afghan ruling group to preserve its interests, particularly the preservation of Lake Hamun.
  • Border confrontations since the Taliban’s takeover: There have been numerous events and fights along the Iran-Afghanistan border since the Taliban’s takeover.

Why is the Taliban so enraged this time?

  • The Taliban’s interest in agriculture: The Taliban prioritises agricultural development, which determines how they manage and distribute water.
  • Tehran’s sudden interest in Sistan-Baluchistan following protests: Following widespread uprisings, especially in Sistan-Baluchistan, Iran’s government has focused its focus on the province due to its disadvantage and dependency on Lake Hamun’s water resources.

Significant roadblocks in the resolution

  • Lack of interest: Both Iran and the Taliban are uninterested in resolving the region’s mismanagement of water resources and environmental concerns.
  • Short-term emphasis on internal issues: Instead of aggressively settling the water problem, both Iran and the Taliban prioritise short-term solutions and focus on domestic matters.

Sistan-Baluchistan’s current situation

  • Growing public outrage: Water scarcity and other economic and social issues are fueling public anger and dissatisfaction in the eastern Iranian region of Sistan-Baluchistan.
  • Water scarcity and other issues: Sistan-Baluchistan suffers from significant water scarcity, which contributes to economic and social difficulties in one of Iran’s poorest regions.
  • Creating an investigation commission: In order to handle the recent border confrontation, Iran and Afghanistan have decided to form a commission of inquiry to look into the incident.
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