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Iran threatens 'pressure' on Taliban amid deepening water row

The warning marked the most serious episode in Iran-Taliban ties since the extremist group's takeover of Afghanistan in 2021. 
An Afghani policeman looks out to the horizon while on patrol in the mountains surrounding the Helmand River valley in Afghanistan on Feb. 24, 2006.

TEHRAN — Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said the Islamic Republic will resort to pressure if necessary against the ruling Taliban establishment in Afghanistan should it fail to provide Iran with its share of a lifeline border water supply, Tasnim news agency reported on Thursday.  

Amir-Abdollahian cited Afghanistan's commitments under a 1973 agreement, which obligates Kabul to secure an annual 820 million cubic meters of water from the shared Helmand River.  

Iran has repeatedly complained that it is receiving only 4% of the agreed amount, which it expects to flow in the transboundary Hamoun basin.  

Taliban authorities, however, have stated that the water supply behind the key Kajaki dam is fast diminishing, an argument upon which Amir-Abdollahian appeared to be casting doubt.  

"A joint technical delegation comprising experts from the Iranian Energy Ministry should visit the dam and figure it out up close," he declared during a visit to Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan province, an impoverished area bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan.   

The water dispute comes during the area's typical arid and scorching season and threatens to further exacerbate the already dying agriculture there. Complicated by the overall impacts of climate change and mismanagement, critical water woes have quickly spread across much of Iran over the past two decades. In 2018, some 97% of the country was already in the grips of a long-term drought, according to the Crisis Management Department of Iran's Meteorological Organization. 

In his comments, Amir-Abdollahian did not elaborate on how Tehran would exert such "pressure," but he warned in an earlier phone conversation with his Taliban counterpart that Afghanistan's failure to meet Iran's demand will "impact" bilateral ties. 

A similar stance was expressed by President Ebrahim Raisi, who was visiting the same area to inaugurate a joint electricity project alongside Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.  

"I do warn the rulers of Afghanistan to deliver the water share [to] locals in [Iran's] Sistan-Baluchistan," Raisi said, advising the Taliban "to take the warning seriously," as "we cannot afford to let the rights of our people be violated."  

Despite the tacit approval Iran has given the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, ties have not been without bumps, marred every now and then by border clashes

The water dispute statements by Iranian officials were their most scathing against the Taliban since the group forced its way into Afghanistan's presidential palace after exploiting a vacuum triggered by the US departure, which the Iranian president had hailed as "an opportunity to restore life, security and lasting peace in the country." 

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