Afghanistan » Foreign Policy

The Afghan waters and Iran’s concerns

Published Date: July 15, 2017


In the inauguration ceremony of the “International Conference of confrontation with dusty environment; the challenges and solutions”, which was held in Tehran on 4 and 5 July 2017, the Iranian President Hassan Ruhani criticized the construction of water dams in Afghanistan and said that Iran could not, any longer, be silent against the construction of dams such as Kajaki, Kamal Khan, Salma, etc.

The Afghan government, in response to these remarks of Rouhani, has said that in the past several years, Afghanistan had not been able to utilize its waters and that now it had undertaken serious steps in this regard and that no-one had the right to create obstacles in the way of these programs of the Afghan government. It is mention-worthy that currently, 80% of the waters of Afghanistan are flowing to the neighboring countries.

Here you would read about the common waters of Afghanistan, the recent criticisms of the Iranian President from the construction of water dams in Afghanistan and the water management and the National Unity Government’s programs in this regard.


The common waters and Afghanistan

Waters that flow between the two countries on their border line or waters that flow through two or more than two countries are called common waters, and all the parties utilize it in accordance with the international principals and law of sharing waters.

International law says that waters must be justly and fairly managed. Therefore, one of the solutions that the countries use to share common waters among themselves is signing agreements in this regard and, thus, the countries share the common waters between themselves.

Afghanistan is a mountainous and landlocked country which has common waters with five of its six neighboring countries. Afghanistan’s water is flowing in five basins (Amu River, Helmand River, Kabul River, Harirod-Marghab River and Northern basin). Afghanistan has common waters with Tajikistan in the Amu River basin which then flows into Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, with Turkmenistan and Iran in the Harirod-Marghab basin, with Iran in Helmand basin and with Pakistan in Kabul River basin.

Lack of agreements on sharing common waters between Afghanistan and its neighbors has encountered Afghanistan with many problems, and it will create challenges for this country in the future as well because whenever Afghanistan begin to construct waters dams, faces the opposition of its neighboring countries.


Tehran’s criticism from Kabul’s “water diplomacy”

Cooperation and negotiations on water management, environmental issues and the role of water in the economic development are the essential part of foreign policy and countries’ engagement with each other, which we know as “water diplomacy.” However, in the international politics, water is both the source of partnership and enmity among the countries and besides energy and food security, waters security is one of the important issues in the foreign policy of the countries.

Iran is the only country that Afghanistan has a water-sharing agreement with. [1] At that time five million Km3 water was flowing in the Kajaki dam, and the two sides had agreed on 20% water to flow to Iran. However, now despite the reduction of the level of water, 80% of water flows into Iran. Still, Iran emphasizes on the prevention of the construction of water dams in Afghanistan and the Iranian President recently criticized the water management and the construction of waters dams (especially on Helmand River) in Afghanistan and said, “We cannot remain indifferent about the construction of water dams such as Kajaki, Kamal Khan, Salma and other water dams in Afghanistan, which affect our Sistan and Baluchistan provinces.” He also added, “If the Hamun river stops flowing, not only Sistan and Baluchistan but also Afghanistan will suffer from dust and dusty clouds.” [2]

The Afghan government, Parliament, civil society, parties and people has fiercely criticized these remarks of the Iranian President. The Presidential Palace has said, “We have the right to utilize the waters of our country and whoever delivers such remarks are wrong. The Afghan government has every right to utilize its resources in the interests of its nation, and it is from our priorities. Regarding such remarks, we can only say that they have to first think about what they say.” [3] In the Afghan capital and some provinces, people demonstrated and accused Iran of interfering in Afghanistan.

Due to the continued war in the past several decades, Afghanistan was unable to implement infrastructural projects. While Afghanistan spends large sums of money importing electricity to the country, besides agricultural usages, constructing of water dams can provide enough electricity to enlighten Afghan houses.


The National Unity Government (NUG) and water management

Afghanistan has vast natural resources which can be used for the construction and development of the country. One of these resources is water which is a vital and valuable resource.

After the formation of the NUG, the Afghan President has always emphasized the importance of water and its vital role and has always reiterated that this aspect required serious attention. Although the Afghan Ministries of Energy and Water, Rural Rehabilitation and Development and Agriculture are involved in the management of waters and other related issues, in 1394 (solar year), the “High Council for Land and Water” was established under the leadership of President Ghani. Furthermore, the program of the development of water resources, the national program of construction and reformation of water facilities, and the program of coastal consolidating of the country’s rivers were programs that were carried out in the areas of water management.

Some of the activities undertaken by the NUG are as the following:

  • Completing the Salma dam: the Salma dam is a project that has been started 40 years ago, and its first technical studies were conducted in 1339 solar year, but due to the insecurity and war in the country, this project was stopped. After the Taliban regime and with the formation of the new government, works on this dam resumed in 1388 (solar year). The Salma dam was to be completed in 1388. However, since it was to be built on Harirod River, which is one of the common waters between Afghanistan and its western neighbors Iran and Turkmenistan, during the previous Afghan government, this project was not implemented as a result of foreign interference, and internal conservatism and because mostly political issues were held above national interests. This dam was finally completed during the NUG.
  • Beginning the procurement affairs of 32 water dams worth $2.33m including technical studies, and construction design.
  • Construction and repairment of dozens of canals, projects of coastal consolidation for the purposes of preventing the water wastes and effective use of water.
  • The rehabilitation of 1953 km irrigation infrastructures in five water basins of the country which remarkably increased water for irrigation of 5200 thousand hectares of land.
  • Completion of the Gambiri Project in Nangarhar Province, in order to irrigate 35,000 hectares of agricultural land.
  • Finalizing the document of the basics of water diplomacy, designing and organizing trans-boundary water policy, organizing a policy for groundwater, organizing policy and strategy for capacity building in water sectors, organizing water resources management policy, establishing an Amu River Coast Conservation Management Agency, and planning for rehabilitation and reconstruction canals are among the other things that the National Unity Government mentions as its accomplished activities. [4]

It seems that most of the activities of the NUG in this regard were making plans and policies, and little practical work has been done, one of the main factors behind which is the negative interference of the neighboring countries in funding, designing and construction of major projects in this regard.

The end


[1] This agreement was signed between the Afghan Prime Minister Musa Shafiq and the Iranian Pahlawi King about waters in Helmand.

[2] BBC Persian, «افغانستان: سدسازی در افغانستان نباید موجب نگرانی حسن روحانی باشد» [Afghanistan: building dams in Afghanistan should not concern Ruhani], 14 Saratan 1396:

[3] Radio Azadi, «واکنش ارگ به اظهارات روحانی: از منابع طبیعی بهره‌گیری خواهیم کرد» [the reaction of Presidential Palace against the remarks of Ruhani: We will use our natural resources], 14 Saratan 1396:

[4] Read this article about the government and water management:

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