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September 26, 2018
The Kabul Times

Afghanistan has the right to use its waters

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 percent 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 been not fully implemented from the Iranian side. Iran has been receiving 70 percent more than the amount of water initially agreed upon in 1973. Furthermore, without consulting Afghanistan, Iran has built infrastructure on the water flowing area of Afghanistan.
President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani initiated talks on “water-related issues” upon the inauguration of the National Unity Government. President Ghani stated that the government of Afghanistan always considered river basin management to be the best instrument for dealing with water issues.
Pakistan and Iran are both dependent on water flowing out of Afghanistan to irrigate their territories and fuel their development. A shortage in water availability in the future and increase in the capacity of water storage accompanied by the development of new hydropower projects inside Afghanistan would decrease the flow of water to Pakistan and Iran and may threaten their communities.
Recently, Iran’s foreign minister made aggressive remarks against Afghanistan, saying they would utilize Helmand’s water by any mean. Jawad Zarif even threatened that his government would spare no effort to address drought issues in Sistan-Baluchistan and shall abuse Afghan refugees and trade issues with Afghanistan, if the water-flow decreased.
Indeed, this is the right of Afghanistan to use its natural resources that water is one of them. Afghans should be the first users of their waters and our neighbors can also use the God’s blessing, but they should not prevent us from using the rivers in our own home.
Iran should know that recent development and infrastructure-building on the Helmand River is both a legitimate right and immediate domestic need of Afghanistan and these projects will not threaten neighbors’ 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 projects. Clearly, these neighbors do not want Afghanistan to become a hydro-hegemon.
These issues could be solved properly if all actors would know commit 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 socio-economic, environmental, and hydrologic challenges will threaten all.
While Afghans have never minded the use of the Afghan rivers’ water by their Iranian brothers, they expect no such statements from them.
We can continue living in brotherly atmosphere but the use of the things that belong to us, is our immediate right. We need our waters, we need electricity, irrigation and greenery. Thus, we should be the first ones that use our rivers.
Meanwhile it is mentionable that under abnormal situation like drought, the 1973 treaty doesn’t be observed.

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