March 3, 2021
At noon on March 1, Afghan and Iranian border forces exchanged fire in Nimrouz province, southwestern Afghanistan. The conflict flared up over clearing equipment being used in the Helmand River.
The river has always been a contentious issue in Afghanistan, where border provinces face severe water shortages. Iran fears new dams will block its supply of water from Afghanistan, and has been accused of backing the Taliban’s efforts to stop their construction.
Parviz Adilyar, the deputy commissioner of Nimrouz province, confirmed to IranWire that the clashes between Afghan and Iranian border forces had taken place as described and emergency meetings were held on the border strip. Afghan authorities have assured Iranian border forces that there will be no more shooting by their forces, and that the dispute will be swiftly drawn to a close.
According to the deputy commissioner, when the shooting started Afghan forces tried to evacuate their oil tankers from the border of the Silk Bridge in Nimrouz as quickly as possible so they would not catch fire.
“Another emergency meeting between Afghan and Iranian officials will be held tomorrow to discuss the reasons for the clash,” Adilyar said. “These conflicts occur from time to time, but tensions on the border between our two countries must be reduced. There should be no armed conflict on the border. This kind of dispute is detrimental to both sides.”
In an interview with IranWire, Massoud Hakimi, a member of the Nimrouz provincial council, said the clashes began while Afghan workers were digging wells in the Helmand River to extract water. According to him, one Afghan citizen was injured and a number of houses and shops were damaged during the violence.
The border conflict comes as the Afghan government seeks to manage and control the river’s water supple. Construction work is under way on the Pashdan Dam in Herat, Kamal Khan in Nimrouz and Kajaki in Helmand province, as well as on the Bakhshabad Dam in Farah province near Iran.
Iranians Fired Kalashnikovs and Mortars
An Afghan border guard at the Silk Bridge, who asked to use the pseudonym Bahram, told IranWire he had witnessed the clashes. Iranian border guards first entered Afghanistan and warned workers to stop clearing and building on the Helmand River, he said, but the workers resisted and carried on, provoking the Iranians to attack.
According to Bahram, the border guards fired on the Afghan workers after returning to their base: “The Iranians targeted the Afghans with Kalashnikovs and mortars, and we retaliated. The conflict lasted more than 15 minutes and then stopped. We cannot remain silent when Iranian border guards shoot at our compatriots.”
The construction of Kamal Khan Dam in Nimrouz province has been completed. Nizamuddin Khaplwak, a spokesperson for the Afghan National Water Regulatory Authority, told IranWire the dam has been operational for about a month.
But a local official in Nimrouz, who did not want to be named, said Iranian proxy forces are making security threats to prevent the construction of canals at the Kamal Khan Dam, and that “Iran openly supports the Taliban.”
Aref Achakzai, project manager for the Pashdan Dam in Herat, told IranWire the Taliban is threatening to disrupt the dam’s construction, which would prevent more than 150 million cubic meters of water from flowing into Iran each year.
About four months ago Shah Wali Sultan, the former governor of Nimrouz asked Iran to pay with oil and gas as alternative commodities in exchange for using Afghanistan’s fresh water. Afghanistan’s border provinces face severe water shortages for farms, which has prompted the Afghan president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani to stress the need for water management, saying: “Water is the dignity of the people of Afghanistan.”