Iran-Afghanistan Tension Over Kamal-Khan Dam

The dispute over the Helmand water rights is a long-standing tension between Afghanistan and Iran that sometimes escalates. With the Taliban gaining power, tensions have risen again. Recently, residents of Iran’s Sistan and Balochistan protested against the closure of the Kamal Khan Dam in the Zabul border region. The videos, made available to Hasht-e Subh, show Iranian citizens breaking the windows of several trucks by attacking Afghan trucks. Protesters chanted “If the dam is not opened, the terminal will be closed,” calling on Taliban-led government officials to reopen the Kamal Khan Dam, from which the Helmand water reservoir is being built.

A local reporter told Hasht-e Subh that the protest was tense at first, stressing that the border forces of Iran and the Taliban were on high alert. But after several aimless gunshots, the situation returned to normal. IRIB News Agency quoted the Iranian Interior Ministry’s deputy security minister as calling the rally illegal and stressing that those who committed illegal acts would be dealt with severely. However, Afghan refugees in Iran are talking about Iran’s retaliatory actions.

Bashir Ahmad Mohammadi, an Afghan refugee who has been working in Iran for a long time, told Hasht-e Subh that the number of checkpoints and street harassment by Iranian military forces has increased over the past few days. “This is always the situation in Iran,” Mohammadi added. “But since the day the Kamal Khan Dam came up and people have been protesting, the arrest of illegal immigrants has increased and, no Afghan can easily go out even to shop.” Although the Afghan refugee does not know enough about the details of the tensions over the Helmand water rights, he insists that the Iranian government and its citizens say the new plan to detain undocumented Afghan refugees will be taken seriously in Tehran and other provinces from Saturday.

Abdul Raziq, another Afghan immigrant, is engaged in construction work, especially “plastering”, due to the lack of work and difficult economic conditions in Iran. He has been working in this country for more than a year. But recently, he has become more concerned about being arrested and deported from Iran. Speaking to Hasht-e Subh, he said that whatever the previous government or the Taliban did against Iran, the Iranian government would take revenge on the immigrants, especially the working class. “For two days now, deportations have increased,” said the Afghan refugee. “Many say the detention plan is set to last up to ten days and be carried out throughout Iran.”

Although the Iranian government has not yet officially announced a plan to detain and deport Afghan refugees, in some provinces, it has formally increased patrols and suspended employers of Afghan workers. Fars News Agency announced on Monday that Iran has set up checkpoints to stop the work of illegal immigrants. According to the Iranian news agency, checkpoints in some provinces have been increased and fines imposed on employers who employ illegal immigrants have also increased. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) recently said that more than 3,000 Afghans return from Iran per day. The organization has said that many of these people are being forcibly expelled by Iran.

Beliefs among some civil and political activists are that in the current situation, increasing tensions between the two countries is not in the best interest of the two countries. Mohammad Sediq Atef, a civil activist, looks at the history of tensions, accusing Iran of abusing the status quo. The civil activist emphasizes that Taliban officials must resolve the issue of migrants through diplomacy. “Iran must stop the process of deporting migrants and resolve the issue of water rights through dialogue,” he added.

Although rallies at the Malik terminal, the border point between Afghanistan and Iran, have been lifted, and there are no border tensions, the Taliban-led government has not yet commented. According to the 1972 agreement between the government of Iran and the government of Afghanistan at that time, Iran owns a certain portion of Helmand river rights. A few days ago, according to Iranian officials, the Taliban opened the Kamal Khan Dam to Iran as seasonal rains flooded. But after it was closed again, Iranian citizens protested across the border.