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Afghanistan’s Kamal Khan Dam: A costly dream come true

By: Jason Criss Howk
President Ghani and his Vice Presidents traveled to Nimruz to officially open the Kamal Khan Dam. The 9-Megawatt dam is considered a small project by international standards, but for Afghans, this is the end of a five-decade dream to better control the Helmand River as it nears Iran and convert Nimruz province into a potent agricultural center.
Benefits of the Kamal Khan Dam to the Afghan people
The dam will provide electricity, prevent flooding in the area, and also have the capacity to provide irrigation to around 400,000 acres of land. Since so much of Afghanistan’s economy is agriculturally based, this is a big step forward. The dam is located about 60 miles from Zaranj, the capital of Nimruz Province.
This long-planned infrastructure is a source of pride for Afghans. Many were expressing their joy over the grand opening today on social media. At the same time, Afghans expressed outrage at the simultaneous destruction of a key bridge near Kandahar by the Taliban today. The bridge destroyed by a large vehicle born bomb, was near the current battle lines between Islamic Republic and Taliban forces in the Arghandab.
Iran contests the Dam waters
Iran has consistently urged Afghanistan to let more water flow out of Nimruz into Iran. Even petitioning the U.N. to get the young Afghan Republic government to release more water after the Taliban regime was removed. But the Iranian regime shifted tactics according to some police and civil society members in Nimruz. They say that Iran ended up paying their old rival the Taliban to repeatedly attack the dam project over the years. Afghanistan’s government has consistently stated that Iran has no expectation of Afghan waters in this dry region where Iranian, Afghan, and Pakistani borders meet. The provincial police chief assured citizens that the planned unveiling would occur unscathed, and that his 400 police officers were more than a match for any guerrilla attacks. Col Allah Dad, the Provincial Police Chief, has been busy keeping that promise.
The dam, planned in the 1960s, has been hindered from completion over the years due to instability and violence, and the objections of Iran. In recent years, after the fall of the Taliban, Presidents Karzai and then Ghani have been taking steps towards this day, but it came at a cost. The dam has been under attack from militants dozens of times in the last two years alone. In those attacks and estimated 40 Afghan security guards gave their lives to defend Afghan infrastructure. There were also dozens of guards held as hostages by the Taliban during the construction. The ANDSF estimates they prevented almost 100 attacks on the dam.
Kamal Khan Dam worth the fight
According to Chief of Afghanistan’s National Water Affair Regulation Authority, irrigation benefits alone have the potential to “transform the barren land of Nimruz into the food basket of Afghanistan.” Many Afghans seem to think the loss of human life was worth the effort.
For a nation highly reliant on development and aid non-profit assistance to feed its citizens, this is truly a day for celebration. The estimated $78 million price tag for this final phase of construction will pay long-term dividends as long as the militants and terrorists in the region do not destroy this bit of progress.
To commemorate the struggles to complete the project and to honor those who died in service to the nation, Ghani laid a wreath at a minaret at the Kamal Khan Dam.
Jason spent 23 years in USG service conducting defense, diplomacy, intelligence, and education missions globally. Now he teaches, writes, podcasts, and speaks publicly about Islam, foreign affairs, and national security. He is a member of the Military Writers Guild, works with numerous non-profits and aids conflict resolution in Afghanistan.

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