Tensions between Afghanistan and Iran have increased over the past few months, culminating in recent border clashes that have placed both nations on high alert. The Helmand River is the primary source of contention, and the dispute over shared water resources is at the heart of this conflict. This river, which is essential in this dry region and spans the geopolitical divide, has a direct impact on both nations’ livelihoods and strategic interests.
Background of the Water Rights Issue
Background of the Water Rights Debate The Helmand River, a waterway that runs more than 1,000 kilometers from Afghanistan to Iran’s drought-ravaged eastern provinces, is at the center of the dispute. This river has historically been a crucial source of water for both nations, supporting agriculture, electricity generation, and food production in dry regions.
However, the conflict over who owns the river’s resources has become even more heated as a result of water scarcity brought on by climate change and recurrent droughts. The Iran Meteorological Organization reports that an estimated 97% of the country is experiencing some degree of water stress as a result of a severe drought that has lasted for more than three decades in Iran.
At the same time, Afghanistan is struggling with its third year of unrelenting drought, which is putting even more stress on their scarce water supplies.
A 1973 bilateral treaty that established the rights of each nation to the Helmand River further complicates the situation. However Kabul’s craving to dam the stream for power age and rural water system has set off Iran’s fury, igniting another series of disagreements regarding the arrangement’s understanding and application.
Ongoing Boundary Conflicts and Strategic Allegations
This stewing conflict as of late plunged into brutality, bringing about a weighty trade of gunfire at a boundary post, killing something like three and harming a few others. The Afghan authorities have refuted the state-run media in Iran’s accusation that the Taliban were the ones who started the attack. Iran’s reports suggest “significant damage and casualties” in contrast to Afghanistan’s more muted language regarding the severity of the conflict, which is central to these narratives.
However, despite the temporary closure of the Milak border crossing, a vital trade route between the two countries, tensions remain high. Additionally, these disagreements run the risk of escalating the predicament of Afghan refugees in Iran. With nearly 3.5 million Afghans living there, their already precarious situation is likely to be jeopardized by rising tensions.
Relations have already been strained as a result of reports that Iranian security forces have mistreated Afghans and even unlawfully killed them.
Climate change, geopolitical interests, and historical grievances all come together to form a complicated picture that is only going to get more important for Kabul and Tehran’s relationship.
Regional & International Implications
Implications for the Region and the World The ensuing conflict at the border has repercussions that go well beyond the Helmand River. Regional powers are likely to be drawn in as a result of the apparent collision between the two nations. China, a noticeable player in the locale, has kept up with relations with the Taliban government and is a critical partner in the country’s political direction and monetary turn of events.
In addition to establishing projects that will connect the three countries by land, Beijing wants a safe Afghanistan so that it can gain access to the country’s famed mineral wealth. As a result, Beijing will be positioned as the most powerful mediator in any military conflict between Iran and Afghanistan.
The prospect of additional Chinese investments, particularly in energy and infrastructure, could be a driving force behind a resolution given that neither Iran nor Afghanistan has any suitable alternatives for foreign investment.
The skirmishes have received relatively restrained international responses thus far. Nonetheless, UN mediation is anticipated to play a significant role in advocating for policy change due to the conflict’s root cause and the presence of refugees. To defuse tensions, short-term measures would include establishing a ceasefire and strengthening existing diplomatic channels. Long-term, policymakers will focus on developing sustainable water sharing mechanisms that take into account climate change and other current water supply pressures that were not included in the 1973 Tehran-Kabul water rights treaty.
Forecast The Helmand River dispute is likely to continue until a mutually agreeable solution and successor to the 1973 bilateral treaty can be found and ratified by both sides due to the influences of climate change, resource scarcity, and geopolitical interests. China is likely to play the role of mediator and leverage existing and future projects to broker bilateral talks and push for a resolution, given its growing diplomatic influence and recent history in the region.
The ongoing dispute between Iran and Afghanistan over water rights is a stark illustration of the global struggle for resources, which is being exacerbated by population growth and climate change. Under the supervision of regional powers and international organizations, the manner in which these nations navigate this dispute is likely to serve as a model for future water disputes elsewhere.