In a violent escalation of tensions between Iran and Afghanistan, at least three individuals were killed and numerous others injured during clashes along the Iranian-Afghan border on Saturday night. Iranian state media, along with an Afghan official, reported the incident, which unfolded amidst an ongoing heated dispute over water rights between the two nations.
According to Iranian state media and Afghan news reports, two Iranian border guards lost their lives during the conflict, which commenced at noon on Saturday and lasted for six hours along the southwestern border of Afghanistan. Additionally, a soldier affiliated with the Taliban administration in Afghanistan was killed, as confirmed by the Afghan Ministry of Interior.
Both countries have leveled accusations against each other, asserting that the opposing side instigated the clashes. Iranian state media quoted an official from southeastern Iran who mentioned that calm had been restored to the border area on Saturday night.
The confrontations occurred against the backdrop of mounting political tensions surrounding the flow of water from Afghanistan’s Helmand River into eastern Iran. This region has been grappling with severe drought conditions. The clashes transpired in the area where the river’s mouth lies, straddling the border between southwestern Afghanistan and southeastern Iran.
Iranian officials have recently accused the Taliban administration of breaching a long-standing treaty between the two nations by impeding the water’s flow out of Afghanistan, an allegation that Taliban officials have denied.
Water has long been a contentious issue between Afghanistan and Iran, stemming from their shared reliance on the Helmand River. Originating in the Hindu Kush Mountain range, this river is Afghanistan’s longest, nourishing wetlands along its border with Iran. The river holds vital significance for drinking water, agriculture, and fishing in southern Afghanistan and southeastern Iran.
During the 1940s and ’50s, Afghan governments constructed two major dams along the Helmand River, granting Afghanistan the ability to halt water flow into Iran. This development alarmed Iranian officials during periods of severe drought. Although the two countries signed a water resource-sharing treaty in 1973, it was never ratified, leaving the issue unresolved and exacerbating tensions regarding water allocation from the river.
Since the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021, Iranian authorities had maintained relations with Afghanistan. In February, Iran became one of the few foreign governments to accept diplomats appointed by the Taliban. However, this month, President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran cautioned the Taliban administration against violating the terms of the 1973 water treaty. He further urged the Afghan government to permit Iranian hydrologists to monitor the river’s water levels, stressing that the rights of the Iranian people should not be infringed upon.
On Saturday morning, Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban administration’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, met with Iran’s top diplomat in Afghanistan, Hassan Kazemi Qomi. Among other issues, they discussed the water dispute, as confirmed by Hafiz Zia Ahmad, the deputy spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Following the border clashes, the Afghan Ministry of National Defense appealed for both nations to engage in negotiated dialogue to reach a resolution. In a statement, the ministry emphasized that resorting to war and engaging in negative actions would not serve the interests of any party involved.