Afghanistan’s new rulers, the Taliban, and their neighbor Iran on Sunday said the deadly clashes between their forces had subsided, and the two sides are now engaging in talks to resolve their differences. The tensions escalated recently when Iran accused the Taliban of breaching a 1973 water-sharing treaty by blocking the Helmand River water which flows from Afghanistan to Iran.
Iran accused Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers of violating a 1973 treaty by restricting the flow of water from the Helmand River to Iran’s parched eastern regions, an accusation denied by the Taliban.
A Taliban source warned Tehran: “We will conquer Iran in 24 hours, don’t test our strength.” The warning followed skirmishes on Sunday between the Taliban and Iran’s border guard units, and some reports suggest a Taliban force crossed the border and took over an Iranian position.
1. Armed clash between Iran & Taliban begins at Nimruz border as tensions escalate over Water dispute and Iranian farmers entering Afghan territory.
The two nations share a 900-kilometer border, and Iran does not recognize the Taliban government.#Iran #Taliban pic.twitter.com/TcrM0teibz
— The Story Teller (@I_am_the_Story) May 27, 2023
On Saturday, two Iranian border guards were killed in clashes with Taliban forces at the border. On Sunday, the Commander of the Iranian Army’s Infantry Brigadier General Kioumars Heidari, warned against any repetition of the dangerous incidents on the border between Iran and Afghanistan. The Iranians, for their part, claim their forces killed 12 Afghanis.
And on Monday morning, Iran’s Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said that a proper response had been given to the Afghan border guards and that presently, there is no problem at the border crossing between the two countries.
At least 2 Iranian border guards were killed in today’s clash with the Afghan Taliban at the Iran-Afghanistan border. On the other hand, Taliban interior ministry spokesperson also confirmed that 1 border guard killed during these clashes. pic.twitter.com/FmixmremlP
— Khyber Scoop (@KhyberScoop) May 27, 2023
One more item: a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry said in a statement that his government “does not want to fight with its neighbors,” blaming Iran for firing the first shot in the conflict, after which the Afghan border forces retaliated.
According to Dr. Glen Hearns of the Eco-Logical Resolutions consultancy in Vancouver, Canada, the Helmand River and its major tributary, the Arghandab, drain 43% of Afghanistan’s water, including from most of the southern part of the country. Its flow is highly variable both annually and seasonally, since the water in it comes primarily from snow melts on the mountains of central Afghanistan.
The Helmand flows some 1,150 km before reaching the Sistan wetlands, which are shallow marsh lakes in southwest Afghanistan and eastern Iran. During high flows, they form a series of interconnected lakes that flow in an anti-clockwise manner from Afghanistan to Iran.
The 1973 Helmand River Treaty is the only agreement that specifically addresses the allocations of Afghanistan’s water. The river and the marshes have been the source of contention since the late 1800s, and attempts to resolve the disputes have failed. The 1973 agreement guarantees Iran an average of 0.22 cubic meters per second of water, and an additional 4 cubic meters per second for “goodwill and brotherly relations.”
According to the UN, Afghanistan and Iran have suffered from a prolonged drought, with drought conditions worsening over the past ten years.
Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi last week went on TV to urged Tehran not to overlook the region’s drought and to try to resolve the issue in “face-to-face talks instead of making noises” through media.