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Iran-Afghan water tensions surge amid drought, complicating Taliban ties

Even though Tehran stopped short of recognizing the Taliban government in Kabul, it has been one of the few countries that maintained diplomatic relations and retained its embassy in the country.
Abandoned boats in Sikh Sar village at Hamoon wetland near the Zabol town, in southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan bordering Afghanistan on Feb. 2, 2015.

Tensions have escalated between Tehran and the Taliban regime in Kabul over the distribution of their shared waters. As Iran faces increasing water scarcity issues, Afghanistan is trying to dam water sources as much as possible to generate electricity and irrigate agricultural land. 

Originating in the Afghan Hindu Kush mountain range, the Helmand River is Afghanistan’s longest river that flows across the country before it winds down to the Iran border and runs into the Hamoun Lake that is accessible to both sides. For centuries, it has been a primary source of drinking water, fishing and irrigation for both countries. The Afghan-Iranian Helmand River Water Treaty of 1973 stipulates that Afghanistan must deliver water to Iran at an annual average of 820 cubic meters under normal conditions. While both parties signed onto this treaty, it was never ratified. Increasing the murkiness of the dispute, Article V of the document states that Afghanistan has complete ownership of the rest of the water supply. 

The treaty’s terms and implementation are a gray area that has caused the festering Iran-Afghanistan water dispute. 

In late May, two Iranian security personnel and one Taliban fighter were killed in a heavy exchange of gunfire at the border. Subsequently, the Iranian authorities closed the Milak-Zaranj border post, which is an important commercial crossing, until further notice. 

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