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Home | Editorial | Regional cooperation needed on Afghanistan’s water management

Regional cooperation needed on Afghanistan’s water management

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Regional cooperation needed on Afghanistan’s water management
 Pakistan and Iran have always had historical claims over the water resources of Afghanistan. These claims have always been rejected by Afghanistan. The chaotic politics of water between Afghanistan and its neighbors has a long history, due to the lack of water-sharing agreements between them.
Despite sharing 90% of its water resources with neighbors, Afghanistan has only one bilateral water treaty with Iran. Signed in 1973, according to the agreement, Iran should receive 850 million cubic meters of water annually from the Helmand River basin. However, Afghan officials believe the treaty has not been fully implemented by the Iranian side. 
Iran has been receiving 70% more than the amount of water initially agreed upon in 1973. Furthermore, without consulting Afghanistan, Iran has built infrastructure on the water flowing from Afghanistan. 
Despite facing serious challenges and problems, the National Unity Government (NUG) has undertaken many development and strategic projects since its inauguration; including building of water dams in the country and realizing of the CASA-1000 power transmission as well as the TAPI pipeline projects.
But implementation of the infrastructural projects in the country, including that of building more dams in a bid to manage waters for agriculture and electricity production has risen concern in the neighboring countries. Recently, during an international conference on combating sand and dust storms in Tehran, the capital city of Iran, Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani has expressed his concerns regarding Afghanistan’s dam project. He said that dam construction in Afghanistan play a role in the desiccation of rivers and that cannot be tolerated.
Such remarks has clearly shown that Iran also interfering in internal affairs of Afghanistan, even to some extent has supported armed insurgents, providing them weapons aimed at fueling insecurity to fish from troubled water. The country has also been previously accused of killing of engineers, and guards of Salma and Kajaki dams.
Pakistan and Iran are both dependent on water flowing out of Afghanistan to irrigate their territories and fuel their development. Afghan government needs to assure Pakistan and Iran that recent development and infrastructure-building on the rivers in Afghanistan is both a legitimate right and immediate domestic need of Afghanistan. 
Afghanistan must convince its neighbors that these projects will not threaten their downstream communities, but will rather lead to peace-building in the region. To do that Kabul needs to build its capacity in water diplomacy.
Both Pakistan and Iran have a history of sabotaging Afghan efforts to use its water resources, in addition to diplomatic meddling to hijack investment of donor countries in Afghanistan’s hydro-power projects. Clearly, these neighbors do not want Afghanistan to become a hydro-hegemon.
These issues could be solved properly if all actors would know committed themselves to regional cooperation and collective action. Any further dispute and disagreement over water sharing between Kabul and the neighboring countries will lead to further tangled ties in the region. And future socioeconomic, environmental, and hydrologic challenges will threaten all.

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Pakistan and Iran are both dependent on water flowing out of Afghanistan to irrigate their territories and fuel their development.
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