Water conflict between Iran and Afghanistan

Islamists are quarreling over Helmand River

The Shiite-Islamist regime in Iran and the Sunni-Islamist Taliban in Afghanistan are not only fighting for control over the region, but also for access to water. “In this long-standing conflict over rights regarding the border river Helmand, we can see how water is used as leverage and how minority groups are instrumentalized,” explained Dr. Kamal Sido, Middle East Consultant of the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP). Ebrahim Raisi, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), recently threatened to “defend the water rights of the Iranian people” at the border river Helmand “by all available means”. Primarily, Iran wants to send Iranian water experts to Afghanistan to monitor the water levels of 1,150-kilometer-long Helmand River, which originates in the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan. “The Taliban are not willing to accept that. They fear that Iran could use the issue to strengthen its presence in Afghanistan,” Sido explained. “Although both parties are Islamist regimes, there are several conflicts going on between them – also over religious issues. Thus, both sides are instrumentalizing minority groups for geopolitical power play. As a consequence, the affected minority groups are threatened with even more repression.” The Taliban are accusing the Iranian regime of supporting the Shiite minority of the Hazara in Afghanistan, while Iran has been implying connections between the Taliban and Islamist militias in Iran.
Further, it is to be feared that access to water will be used as a means to assert geopolitical interests in this region of the world as well. “In early April, I visited the Tigris in Baghdad – and the Euphrates in Syria in May. I visited a dam on the Euphrates, near Raqqa. There, I was able to see how little water is still left in the reservoir and how threatening the situation is,” Sido added. Here, NATO member Turkey is using control over Syrian rivers as a weapon against the Kurdish people and other minority groups. “Helman River, the Euphrates, the Tigris, the Nile, or Jordan River… water is the basis of all life, and it must not be used as leverage. All states must respect existing contracts, and open questions must be settled peacefully in the interests of everyone involved,” Sido demanded. In times of ongoing drought, in which humanity is struggling with the consequences of climate change, water resources must be shared fairly.
Against the background of the prolonged drought and the inadequate water management in the Middle East and the Near East, the entire region has to deal with conflicts over water: between Egypt and Ethiopia over the water resources of the Nile – and between Israel and Jordan over the water resources of River Jordan. The conflicts between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq over the waters of the Euphrates and the Tigris have been going on for quite a while already.