Water conflict management and cooperation between Afghanistan and Iran | Статья в журнале «Молодой ученый»

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Рубрика: Политология

Опубликовано в Молодой учёный №25 (367) июнь 2021 г.

Дата публикации: 14.06.2021

Статья просмотрена: 13 раз

Библиографическое описание:

Сафи, Памир Джан. Water conflict management and cooperation between Afghanistan and Iran / Памир Джан Сафи. — Текст : непосредственный // Молодой ученый. — 2021. — № 25 (367). — С. 373-378. — URL: https://moluch.ru/archive/367/82431/ (дата обращения: 27.01.2022).

Conflicts are common when it comes to managing water resource systems. the worldwide geopolitics of water conflicts, collaboration, negotiations, management, and resource development are defined by the fact that water knows no borders. the development of methods allowing two or more governments to share an international watercourse involves complex environmental, social, and political systems. (Islam and Susskind, 2013). In terms of Afghanistan's hydro politics, the Helmand River Basin is a superb river. It is Afghanistan's longest river basin, shared by both Afghanistan and Iran, and the only one with which Afghanistan has a legal arrangement with its downstream partner, Iran. (Thomas & Warner 2015). This article examines the various stages of Afghanistan and Iran's water conflict transformation. It begins by looking at historical riparian disputes between upstream and downstream riparians, which have revolved on competing rights claims, culminating in zero-sum confrontations in which one party's loss is seen as another's gain, potentially leading to confrontation. The study then develops a decision-making tool, as well as a mechanism for transforming conflict into cooperation, before offering practical ways for determining basin requirements and benefit sharing, allowing riparians to negotiate a win-win situation.

Keywords: water conflict, mechanism for transforming conflicts into cooperation.

While the world's experience with shared waterways has grown more nuanced and sophisticated, a method is emerging that attempts to organize the massive quantity of data and discipline expertise required to shift from conflict to collaboration (Delli Priscoli and Wolf,2009). Over the last few decades, interest in water resources-based conflict resolution has grown (Dinar, 2004), and various quantitative and qualitative methods for facilitating conflict resolution have been proposed, including but not limited to the Interactive Computer-Assisted Negotiation Support system (ICANS) (Thiessen and Loucks, 1992; Thiessen et al.,1998), Graph Model for Dispute Resolution (GMCR) (Kilgour et al., 1996; Hipel et al., 1997) and Fuzzy Cognitive Maps (Kilgour et al., 1996; Hipel et al., 1997) (Giordano et al.2005). Wolf (2002) includes some important works and case studies on the prevention and settlement of conflict over water resources (using descriptive approaches). Based on a multi-stage paradigm of conflict transformation, this paper examines Afghanistan and Iran's water conflict and the prospects for cooperation. It begins by situating historical disagreements between upstream and downstream riparians, which centered on competing rights claims, resulting in zero-sum confrontations in which one party's loss was seen as another's gain, potentially leading to conflict.

Afghanistan and Iran’s 1973 water treaty on sharing water

In 1973, the Afghan and Iranian governments signed a treaty guaranteeing Iran an annual water supply of 820 MCM (or 26 m3/s) from the Helmand River. Iran has no claim to water beyond that amount, according to the treaty.

Helmand water treaty

In terms of Afghanistan's hydro politics, the Helmand River Basin is a magnificent river. It is Afghanistan's longest river basin, shared by both Afghanistan and Iran, and the only one with which Afghanistan has a formal agreement with its riparian country, Iran (Thomas & Warner 2015). The Helmand River Basin is about 1,300 kilometers long (800 miles). It stretches for fifty-five kilometers along the Afghan-Iranian frontier. In the Helmand River Basin and its Sub-basins, irrigation accounts for 95 % of all abstraction. (Yıldız, D.2017).

In the positioning system assessment of Afghanistan's Helmand Trans-boundary River Basin, equitable benefit sharing management on the basis of the Helmand River Basin among its co-riparian, the Islamic Republic of Iran, must be prioritized in order to achieve the aim of equitable sharing by strengthening water sector professionals to evaluate and design a suitable method to address Afghanistan's water issues.

Furthermore, improving water diplomacy can result in a positive benefit-sharing outcome. Afghanistan built two major dams on the Helmand trans-boundary water river basin, the KAJAKI and ARGHANDAB dams, both of which were built in the 1950s and are intended to meet electrical needs. The second aim of dams in use today was to regulate seasonal flooding and water storage while simultaneously releasing it during dry seasons.

In the river basin's central portion, there are six large-scale irrigation projects, including one in Iran. Since residents living along the trans-boundary river basin are the real and first consumers of water, and they can clearly state their extra-ordinary need for water from the river basin, people's activism in decision-making could pave the way for equal benefit-sharing, eventually resulting in a win-win situation for co-riparians.

Afghanistan's only formal agreement is the Helmand Trans-boundary Water River Basin Treaty, signed in 1973. Meanwhile, the treaty covers water distribution, which is a strategy for mutual revenue sharing and control of Helmand's trans-boundary water resource. To mitigate existing riparian conflicts, the Helmand River Basin needs to be protected in Afghanistan's National Water Law from all angles (Hamidreza Hajihosseini. 2016).

Afghanistan will be strengthened as a result of the government's newly established regulations for dealing with trans-boundary water issues, and it will be prepared to deal with the Helmand Trans-boundary River Basin disputes with neighboring Iran through diplomatic assessment and negotiation by both sides' officials in order to achieve a positive outcome and facilitate opportunities for Equitable sharing of water course from HRB.

If the parties cannot agree on a suitable chair of the arbitration tribunal, the UN will be asked to address one. Protocol two of the Helmand River Treaty outlines an in-depth arbitration process that includes fact finding and the creation of an arbitration tribunal, should the parties not agree on a suitable chair of the arbitrator. Both Iran and Afghanistan have the authority to monitor and resolve trans-boundary water resource disputes in accordance with the treaty. The Iranian Commissioner has access to DEHRAWUD flow measurements in low-flow years, as well as the ability to watch the flow and take his own measurements, according to the treaty (protocol 1, Art,5). Due to (Protocol 1, Art. 6) work on calculating water delivery, Afghan and Iranian commissioners are working together.

Since the commission does not always meet once a year, information from DEHRAWUD is made available on an ongoing basis, rather than on a consistent basis. water delivery to the Islamic Republic of Iran is not properly controlled, despite the fact that it is needed by Afghan officials. Furthermore, all Afghan governments should comply with the requirement on behalf of the Helmand Trans-boundary River Basin to have access to the portion of water that is said to be related to Afghanistan by enforcing water governance and submitting water-related issues to water professionals for better resolution of co-riparian disputes (the Helmand river water treaty 1973).

Water Dispute Impact on Helmand Water Treaty

The Helmand water treaty conflicts were a significant factor in both countries' relations. Iran's foreign policy has resulted in increased water use and infrastructure from the Helmand trans-boundary river basin. With the exception of the 1973 Helmand water treaty, which established a satisfied rate of discharge from the Helmand river basin, cooperation and confidence between Iran and Afghanistan have been restricted in the past. To save and protect its interests, Iran has adopted a paradoxical strategy. Afghanistan's expanding water infrastructure is incommensurable by agreements that increase Iran's vulnerability and Iran has pursued a perplexing policy to protect its interests.

although, pursuing its interests through legal channels, it has also engaged in fewer legal activities. Iran's strategy is to sign formal agreements and establish bilateral cooperation in a variety of areas, including flood and drought management, political stability, and regional economic growth. Since 2003, Iran has worked with the United Nations to protect Lake Hamun and has formed an Iran-Afghan commission to negotiate the Helmand river basin's discharge flow.

Afghanistan, Iran, and Tajikistan came to an agreement in 2010 to form a tripartite «superior water council». Aside from that, Iran has a variety of conflicting policies in Afghanistan, which are largely dominant. Iran, on the other hand, vowed to assist Afghanistan in a variety of ways, including economic, social, and cultural, and worked to build and improve bilateral ties between Tehran and Kabul. Iran also put pressure on Kabul over Afghan refugees and migrant workers in Iran. Lent cut off military aid to rebel groups and tried to establish a chasm between Kabul and the west, likely to destabilize Hamid Karzai's government. (Katzman, 2008).

Iran's support for Afghanistan is undeniably outstanding, with trade agreements signed in January 2003, including attempts to replace Karachi with the Iranian port of Chabahar as Afghanistan's main trade hub. (khan, 2004). Furthermore, there is no clear evidence of a connection between the Taliban insurgents and Tehran. Despite the political threats, Iran's joint acts against Taliban insurgents demonstrate its urgency to enter into binding water sharing agreements at a time when Afghanistan's water management capability is poor due to the country's destabilized situation.

According to reports, Iran dredged thirty kilometers of the Helmand River Basin during the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in order to redirect the flow to storage basins where the water is pumped to other parts of Iran. (Fipps, 2006). As a result, water flow to Afghan farmers in the area has decreased, while water flow to Iran has increased to levels exceeding the Helmand water Treaty amount. According to reports from within the country, some high-ranking Afghan government officials are also suspected of protecting Iran's interests. In the past, (Tan and Farhad, 2007).

Iran is interfering in Afghanistan by using a two-pronged strategy. Iran wants to amend the existing Helmand River Basin Treaty to provide a legal provision for the minimum amount of water that Afghanistan would allow to flow into Iran. Meanwhile, Iran has pursued opposing policies in Afghanistan, one of which contributes to the country's development while the other destabilizes stability in order to exploit the Helmand River Basin to its full potential. (NPR, 2007).

Afghanistan’s Development Project and Iran’s Objection

Iran has objected in every case to the developing projects that Afghanistan has initiated. They have always argued that dam establishment on the Helmand River Basin will reduce the flow of water reaching Iran. The provisions of the 1973 Treaty clearly with respect to the developmental projects and dams. Article V of the treaty states that Iran shall not claim for the water of Helmand River Basin more than the amount specified in Article II, even if there is an additional amount of water in the Helmand River Basin. In addition, Afghanistan shall retain all rights to use or dispose of water of Helmand River Basin as it chooses. Afghanistan contain absolute sovereignty over the remaining water of Helmand River Basin and can used it as preferred. Afghanistan has the right and power to implement agriculture, hydro-electrical and reservoir projects on the additional portion of water in Helmand River Basin. Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s responsibility is that it shall not pollute the water in River Basin and shall not take any action which will deprive Iran of its water right entirely or partially. Article V shall be read along with Article II (Iran water right), Article III (monthly distribution) and IV (climate change of the treaty (Ikramuddin Kamil, (2018).

Continuous Violations of the 1973 Treaty

Afghanistan has continuously acted in accordance with provisions of the treaty since the treaty entered into the force in 1974. However, Afghanistan has not implemented magnificent projects on the Helmand River Basin to manage the water of Helmand River Basin properly. In other hand, has received two-three times more water than the allocated amounts under the treaty. Based on report published in 1984 indicates, inter alia, that Iran has received on an annual average basis an amount of 63 cubic meters per second or almost three times their shares under the Helmand River Basin Treaty. Comparably the Ministry of Water and Energy of Afghanistan also claims that Iran receives four times their shares under the treaty. Furthermore, the installation of approximately hundreds of water pumps by Iran that are capable of extracting thousands of cubic meters of water per year and will have adverse impact on the water in Afghanistan. Iran has built thirty dams on those rivers that flows to Afghanistan, and it has blocked the flow of water into Afghanistan. All these acts constitute a potential violation of customary international law and of Article 7 of the Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses which imposes an obligation on states not to cause significant harm to other riparian states. In conclusion, Iran’s claim on behalf of countermeasures have no legal basis under the provisions of the 1973 treaty as well as current Customary International Law. Taking countermeasures without resource to the terms of the treaty will constitute a violation of the general International law and the 1073 treaty (Ikramuddin Kamil, (2018).

The main points of contention in the Iran-Afghanistan relationship

In the literature, major sources of conflict in Iran-Afghan relations include the issue of Afghan refugees in Iran, cultural influence, cross-border drug trafficking, and transboundary water rights over the Helmand River.

Afghan Refuges

While some authors praise Iran's generosity in hosting refugees who contribute to the country's economic development, others focus on the country's refugee problems [1]. According to some, Afghan refugees, for example, are viewed as a drain on state resources [2]. On rare occasions, the forced expulsion of refugees from Iran has been identified as a significant source of tension. However according Kagan et al. (2012), such expulsions and their alleged use as cover for insurgent infiltration in Afghanistan fuel anti-Iranian sentiment. Both Laipson (2012) and Nader and Laha mention forced repatriation (2011) [3]. given that Afghanistan lacks the resources to absorb this population, and the treatment of refugees in general as a powerful source of leverage for Iran over the Afghan government. Some forced repatriation campaigns, on the other hand, may be motivated more by Iranian domestic politics than by bilateral relations [4].

Influence of Culture

The AIAS report highlights some Afghans' views on Iranian cultural imperialism, which are reflected in Afghan media. According to the AIAS report, Kabul's fear of cultural imperialism stems from its belief that Iran's development of Herat is an attempt to undermine the government, as well as Iran's support for ethnic groups that traditionally oppose the Pashtun-dominated government (Hazara and Tajik) [5]. In other literature, however, Iranian efforts to strengthen cultural ties in Afghanistan were seen as a chance for mutual understanding and cooperation [6].

Drug trafficking across the borders

Cross-border drug trafficking is seen as a major national security threat in Iran. While Afghanistan produces the majority of opium, Iran has the highest rate of opium addiction. Border control is intertwined with the drug problem, with Iran accusing Afghanistan of failing to secure its border [7]. This conflict, on the other hand, involves Iran and Afghanistan.

Over the Helmand River, water sharing

The issue of water sharing on the Helmand River, according to Wilde (2009), is the longest-running conflict between Afghanistan and Iran. Despite the fact that an agreement on water sharing exists in the form of a treaty, tensions between Afghanistan and Iran still exist.

In Iran-Afghanistan relations, the main areas of cooperation

The most frequently cited example of mutually beneficial cooperation between Iran and Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan, is related to the UNODC's «triangular» initiative to combat drug trafficking along the border. The success of this initiative is built on the three countries' shared desire to combat the devastating effects of drug trafficking and secure their national borders [8]. Several studies mention economic development and aid as areas of cooperation [9]. However, as previously stated, this «cooperation» may be motivated by political gain or survival rather than a desire to assist Afghanistan's economy. The west of Afghanistan is prioritizing economic development, including Herat in the Harirod basin, which is expected to become a «buffer zone» in the future [10].

Iran benefits more from economic ties than Afghanistan, according to Parsi (2013) and Kagan et al. (2012). Afghanistan's strategic location as a transit point between Central Asian republics and Iran has aided infrastructure and economic development [11], and the establishment of a «New Silk Road» has been discussed [12].

Stages of conflict transformation into cooperation

Water management is inherently conflict management. Water resources serve multiple purposes across various communities. Water resources vary in time and space. This situation often creates complexity among the societies who rely upon a shared source of water (Islam and Susskind, 2013). However, experience demonstrates that such water complexity can be addressed through coexistence and mutual understanding and various practices including legal and negotiations. Finding the amicable solution for water conflicts enables various communities and societies to achieve more effective and sustainable use of their resources (David et al., 2010; Blatter and Helen, 2001). The international community is facing challenges regarding the prevention of disputes over water resources and the establishment of cooperative institutional mechanisms for water management. Yet collaborative water governance offers a path to avoid the waste, in-stability, risks to public health and ecosystem damages often entailed by water conflict, better meeting the needs of water users. The four stages of transforming from conflict to cooperation are outlined below following (Wolf, 2010; Rothman, 1989, 1995, 1997):

Stage I: Initial State on Basins with Boundaries — Scale is interpersonal, with a focus on trust building, and analysis of parties, positions, and interests. Negotiations are often adversarial, with an emphasis on rights.

Stages II: Changing Perceptions on Basins without Boundaries Scale is inter-sectoral, with a focus on skills building and analysis of the gap between from current and future states. Negotiations move to the reflexive stage, and parties define needs.

Stages III: Enhancing Benefits — Scale moves beyond the basin, with a focus on consensus building and analysis focuses on benefits of co-operation. Negotiations are integrative, where parties define benefits.

Stage IV: Putting It All Together for Institutional and Organizational Capacity and Sharing Benefits — Scale is international, with a focus on capacity building and analysis on institutional capacity. Negotiations are in the action stage, where equity is defined and institutionalized (David et al., 2010).


The Helmand River Basin exhibits the unusual riparian circumstance that both countries (Afghanistan and Iran) are both down and upstream of one another, deterring each from arguing for absolute sovereignty over water on their territory, as this traditional upstream position would then function to their detriment in the downstream position. This characteristic of the Helmand River Basin is an opportunity for the riparian states to negotiate and cooperate. Nonetheless, distrust and capacity weaknesses have created a complex situation in the basin in terms of mutual utilization. The findings of this paper reveal that the countries will not reach the state of cooperation over the water resources of the basin unless the distrust and capacity weakness challenges are overcome. Furthermore, the project by-project approach to negotiations are deadlocked in the basin and, therefore, it is required to shift from such a traditional approach towards enlargement of the basket of benefits. The emphasis, should be on benefit sharing rather than physical water sharing Another important finding of this paper is that Afghanistan has shown tangible political efforts and willingness to alleviate the ongoing disputes and improve mutual cooperation.This paper has formulated a step-by-step conflict transformation process framework, which may transform the existing conflicts to sustainable cooperation. The framework is formulated in a manner to move the topic of talks from rights to benefits. This framework can be widely used as a decision-making tool for potentially resolving both technical as well as political issues. Finally, the role of the international community as facilitators and mediators for the transformation process is vital. In the absence of donor support, there may not be a willingness to successfully implement the formulated framework of transformation. This paper could be further developed in future. For the purpose of this study, water demand data from Iran could not be gathered. Thus, it is highly recommended that the needs on both sides of the basin be identified and analyzed for benefit sharing and enlarging the basket of benefits.


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  14. Toscano. Iran’s Role in Afghanistan
  15. Christensen. (2011), Example of mass repatriation was witnessed for instance in 2007- 2001.
  16. Janne Bierre Christensen. (2011), Strained Alliances: Iran’s troubled relations to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  17. As a result, refugees with Iranian education have been denied employment in Afghanistan, and ministries have refused to certify Iranian diplomats, effectively shutting out returned refugees from the labor market and bolstering Afghanistan's brain drain.
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Основные термины (генерируются автоматически): AIAS, DEHRAWUD, III, NATO, NPR, ARGHANDAB, GMCR, HRB, ICANS, KAJAKI.

Ключевые слова

water conflict, mechanism for transforming conflicts into cooperation
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