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Afghan Authorities See Iran Using Taliban To Undercut Water Projects

FILE: The Salma Hydroelectric Dam in Chishti Sharif district of western Herat Province
FILE: The Salma Hydroelectric Dam in Chishti Sharif district of western Herat Province

WASHINGTON -- Afghan governors in southern and western provinces have accused Iran of using an increasingly close relationship with the Afghan Taliban to target water and power projects on Tehran's behalf.

Hayatullah Hayat, the governor of southern Helmand Province, told VOA's Afghan service on January 23 that Iran wants the Taliban to disable some of the nation's dams so Tehran can get a larger share of water from the Helmand River. He cited classified Afghan intelligence reports forwarded to the Afghan palace and the National Security Council.

“Iran is seeking to undermine development projects over the Helmand River so that it can continue receiving more water," Hayat said.

The Helmand governor accused elements in Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard forces of providing sophisticated weapons to the Taliban that could be used to attack government installations and infrastructure. He said several unexploded mortar missiles used by the Taliban bore an Iranian manufacturer's mark and were fired at the provincial capital.

The governor added that Iran's intelligence representatives recently met with local Taliban leaders in Helmand's volatile Garmsir district.

Water Scarcity Issues

Iran's Embassy in Kabul declined to comment. But Tehran has denied the accusations of close association with the Taliban, saying it has close relations with the government of Afghanistan.

Water scarcity is a major issue in parts of Asia, and Iranian authorities have been pushing for a larger share of water supplies from Afghanistan, which has been building dams for irrigation and power needs. The two neighboring countries signed a water-sharing treaty in 1973 that says Iran shall not make claims to water from the Helmand River in excess of amounts agreed to in the treaty, even if additional water becomes available in the future.

Iran has voiced concerns that several water management projects in progress in western and southern Afghanistan, including Herat Province's new Indian-funded hydroelectric and irrigation project known as Salma Dam, may reduce the flow of water into Iran.

Water Deal Terms

The Afghan government has downplayed Iranian concerns and said the projects will not affect the amount of water flowing into Iran. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Iran continues to receive its share of water from Helmand River and that the country cannot claim more than what has been agreed upon.

Some Afghan experts say if Iran wants more water, it should cut a deal with Afghanistan.

“We know Iran wants more water than allocated to it in the water-sharing treaty,” said Wadir Safi, a professor of law and political science at Kabul University. “If Iran wants more water beyond the amount agreed in the treaty, it should consider buying additional water from Afghanistan.”

The allegations of Taliban involvement in the water dispute come as Kabul is becoming increasingly concerned about Iran's alleged meddling in Afghan provinces bordering Iran. The Afghan Senate last month ordered an investigation into Iran's reported association with the Taliban.

Clandestine Ties

Afghan regional officials say the Taliban have recently increased their terror activities in various provinces.

“The abundance of new weapons and ammunitions in the Taliban's possession has created many questions and doubts,” said Asif Nang, the governor of western Farah Province. Nang added that the Taliban can receive weapons “within an hour” from Iran, given the proximity of his province to the border.

Last month, Nang accused Iran of harboring Taliban families in its territory.

“Families of a number of high-ranking Taliban leaders reside in Iran,” Nang told RFE/RL last month. “They live in cities such as Yazd, Kerman, and Mashhad, and come back to Afghanistan for subversive activities.”

The Taliban's former leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan last year and was reportedly returning from Tehran after holding meetings in Iran.

-- Written by Noor Zahid for Voice of America.