Iran-Afghanistan Tensions Now Rising Over Water

The dispute over the Helmand River between Iran and Afghanistan is an previous one. Within the 1870s, when Afghanistan was nonetheless beneath British management, the border between the neighbors was drawn alongside the primary department of the river. Helmand is a lifeline for each international locations. It’s Afghanistan’s longest river and it runs into Hamoun Lake. 

In March 2021, the Kamal Khan Dam lastly opened after years of setback on the decrease Helmand. Naturally, it was met with animus in Iran. In 1973, the 2 signed the Helmand River Treaty. The settlement assured Iran with a month-to-month allocation of water from the river. However Tehran insists that its neighbor has constantly failed to carry its finish of the deal.

In line with Kabul, the dam was constructed to unravel most of the area’s huge infrastructural and agricultural challenges, reminiscent of offering farmers within the Nimruz Province with a gradual provide of water and electrical energy. Nevertheless, Tehran has tried to halt its development for years, sustaining that it could interrupt the water provide that feeds the Hamoun wetlands. 

On the inauguration, former President Ashraf Gani stated, “Afghanistan would not give free water to anybody, so Iran ought to present gas to Afghans in alternate for water.” Not lengthy after, the nation got here beneath the management of the Taliban. 

In late July 2022, Iran’s International Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian warned his counterpart, Afghanistan’s Amir Khan Muttaqi, that prohibiting Tehran from its rightful entry to the Helmand River will solely trigger additional pressure to an already splintered relationship. President Ebrahim Raisi, too, urged severe motion. 

This text will try to deal with the next query: Is Afghanistan legally permitted to divert the pure course of the Helmand River? Earlier than we start, let’s underscore the important thing components of this bilateral accord.

An Overview of the Helmand River Treaty

In line with the Helmand River Treaty of 1973, Afghanistan should ship water from the Helmand River to Iran at a charge of twenty-two cubic meters per second each year (regular water yr) with an extra 4 cubic meters per second for “goodwill and brotherly relations.” This may provide Iran with an annual common of 556,000 acre-feet or 820 million cubic meters beneath regular situations. 

However though the treaty ensures Iran’s entry to the Helmand River, Article V offers Afghanistan full rights to the remaining water provide. Article V begins by stipulating Iran’s rightful allocation as specified within the earlier articles. Nevertheless, it continues by stating that Afghanistan, “shall retain all rights to the steadiness of the water of the Helmand River and will make such use or disposition of the water because it chooses.” 

The ultimate paragraph of the article emphasizes that Iran is barely entitled to the required quantity of water agreed upon, irrespective if  “extra quantities of water could also be out there” and “be put to useful use.” 

Thus, Afghanistan unequivocally has unilateral rights over the remaining water provide of the Helmand River. Which means it has the facility to implement agricultural, hydroelectric, and reservoir initiatives because it sees match. 

Afghanistan’s sole accountability is to not pollute the water or take any motion that may deprive Iran of its water proper completely or partially. Article V have to be learn together with Article II (Iran water rights), III (month-to-month distribution), and IV (i.e., local weather change). An argument primarily based on the primary paragraph of Article V with out contemplating the context of the treaty and its different provisions will finish in unreasonable conclusions.

No Hurt, No Foul

That the Helmand River Treaty permits Afghanistan the best to pursue developmental initiatives over the remaining waters is incontrovertible. Nevertheless, the query stays whether or not the event of dams or canals is permissible beneath customary worldwide regulation. 

The Helmand River is taken into account to be a global or transboundary watercourse. The 2 neighbors are subsequently legally obligated to share the river’s waters. The precept of equitable and affordable utilization and the no-harm rule is thought to be the cornerstones of worldwide water regulation and had been included within the UN Watercourse Conference in 1997. 

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In line with the precept of equitable and affordable utilization, all states are obligated to “use a global watercourse in a way that’s equitable and affordable vis-a-vis different states sharing the watercourse.” The no-harm rule requires states to not trigger vital hurt to different states. Extra exactly, “riparian international locations mustn’t use their territorial waters in ways in which trigger harm and undesirable influence to downstream co-riparian international locations.”

Certainly, states have an equal proper to an equitable share of a shared river. However the time period “equitable” should not be confused with “equal.” Each state has the best to make use of water equitably however will not be entitled to an equal share of the water. Subsequently, beneath customary worldwide regulation, it’s permissible for Afghanistan to develop initiatives on the Helmand River, as long as they don’t trigger vital environmental harm to its neighbor. 

It must be said that with out clearly understanding the precept of equitable and affordable utilization, any exercise can be deemed a violation. Such a strict interpretation is neither supported by state follow nor by case regulation.

To conclude, neither the Helmand River Treaty nor customary worldwide regulation denies Afghanistan the best to assemble Kamal Khan Dam. It’s not a violation of the 2 aforementioned parts of worldwide regulation. As an alternative, the Helmand river treaty offers Afghanistan an absolute proper to make use of the remaining water of the Helmand River because it chooses.

What Must be Finished?

Clearly, the passage of the Helmand River Treaty in 1973, has not led to any peaceable decision between Iran and Afghanistan. The phrases of the settlement have repeatedly been violated, in keeping with Tehran. However Kabul has all the time insisted that these claims are baseless. 

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Iran has complained earlier than that the right allocation of water was not delivered to them. However these complaints had been made at a time when the Helmand River Basin was beneath drought which severely diminished the river’s water circulation. Nonetheless, this have to be addressed.

To resolve this deadlock, Afghanistan and Iran should: collectively decide locations of supply and assemble joint hydrometric stations as outlined beneath Article III of the treaty. Joint hydrometric stations will settle the problem of the quantity of water that’s required to be delivered to Iran. Every situation has been addressed by the Helmand River Commissioners who’ve convened at the very least twenty-five occasions up to now 20 years. 

Iran has all the time been in opposition to the constructing of joint hydrometric stations. The reason being that Iran had been receiving extra water throughout regular and above-normal water years. The development of joint hydrometric stations would regulate their water share extra strictly.

An settlement was reached to construct joint hydrometric stations within the twenty first assembly of the Joint Committee of Commissioners of Helmand River. Nevertheless, it stays solely on paper. Equally, in August 2022, Afghanistan and Iran once more agreed to a timeline for the development of joint hydrometric stations. However expertise exhibits that it’s going to take years to finish.

Within the meantime, Iran ought to cease digging wells and putting in heavy-duty water pumps alongside the river. Iran has expanded its irrigation and put in pumps via which it diverts 26 million cubic water yearly to Zahedan. Such initiatives will solely improve Iran’s water demand. Moreover, Afghanistan ought to register the Gowd-e-Zera lake as a global wetland as it’s thought-about to be part of the Hamouns. [Naveed Ahsan edited this article.]

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Honest Observer’s editorial coverage.