HERAT -- Construction work on the Pashdan Dam in Herat Province is moving forward despite attempts by the Iranian regime and militant groups to disrupt the project, according to local officials.
Construction on the dam, one of two in Herat Province, is 50% complete, and the project is expected to finish by the end of 2021, say provincial authorities.
The Pashdan Dam, when complete, will be able to hold 40 million cubic metres of water and generate 2MW of electricity.
One goal of the project is to irrigate 13,000 hectares of farmland.
Water from the dam also will reach Herat city, where it will be used to irrigate the greenbelt around the city and supply drinkable water, said local authorities. The Afghan government is funding the $117 million (8.9 billion AFN) project.
Construction is taking place 24 hours a day with a total of 1,000 workers and engineers working in three shifts around the clock, said Muhammad Arif Achekzai, director of the company building the Pashdan Dam.
The work is progressing even as the regime of neighbouring Iran, through its support of militant groups such as the Taliban, has tried to impede the construction, he said.
"Work on the Pashdan Dam has progressed well, but some individuals and groups are covertly trying to interfere with the dam construction," said Achekzai, referred to meddling by the Iranian regime and militant groups such as the Taliban.
"The Pashdan Dam will improve the economy, and visitors can come here for sightseeing as well, but the enemy is trying to stop the dam from being built," he added. "It is difficult to lay a single stone in Afghanistan for rebuilding, let alone implement national water projects [such as this one]."
The Iranian regime -- which is heavily dependent on Afghan water -- has displayed hostility towards water projects in the country in the past, and Afghan officials have repeatedly accused the regime of supporting the Taliban to prevent the construction of dams in the western region.
The Iranian regime is desperate to stop the construction of hydro-power dams in Afghanistan -- especially in the western region, said Abdul Qader Kamel, a political affairs analyst in Herat Province.
The dams can retain Afghan water, meaning that downstream Iran will face a water shortage, he said.
"Iran has always tried to prevent the building of dams in the west," added Kamel. "Several times it planned to destroy the Salma Dam, but it was thwarted."
"It put a lot of effort in trying to stop the building of the Pashdan Dam," he said. "Construction of the Bakhshabad Dam in Farah hasn't started because of Iran's direct interference."
"Iran feels threatened by the construction of hydro-power dams," he said. "This country [Iran] has been using Afghan water for free for decades; therefore, it doesn't want to be cut off."
Still, "all the efforts of the Iranian government have been unsuccessful in preventing the construction of dams in Afghanistan," Kamel said.
Protection by security forces
To blunt attempts at halting construction, hundreds of security personnel patrol the site night and day, officials say. The guards protect workers, engineers and machinery.
These security forces have the necessary equipment and arms to secure the Pashdan Dam, said 2nd Lt. Noor Muhammad Haideri, commander of the squad protecting the project.
No country or group has the ability to prevent the construction of the dam, he said.
"The security forces don’t allow anyone to get close to the project," added Haideri. "Those who are seeking to destroy the Pashdan Dam, they should know that they will take this hope to their graves."
"The security forces and I would like to give a message to those who intend to destroy the Pashdan Dam: they will never succeed, and we'll defend this national project of the Afghan people to the last drop of our blood," he said.
The Afghan people should rest assured that the security forces are determined to protect all of the country's national projects, he noted.
Despite the security threats, construction of the Pashdan Dam has progressed well and the security forces have prevented interference by neighbouring countries and groups associated with them, said Basir Ahmad Danishyar, a political scientist and lecturer at Herat University.
"Some of the neighbouring countries, which see the construction of the Pashdan Dam as a threat to their interests, are trying to interfere with its work and even inflict damage on it, but the security forces and the public have proved that they will continue to defend their national projects," he said.
The Pashdan Dam is one of the major achievements of the Afghan government and will have a positive impact on the lives of residents of Herat Province, said Danishyar.
"Although the security forces have justly defended national projects like the Pashdan Dam, the government needs to send even more resources to the Pashdan Dam so that no country or group dares to come close to the project [and damage it]," he added.
Hope for a brighter future
Ahmad Shah, a farmer in Pashdan village of Karukh District in Herat Province, lauded the progress on the dam construction as it will provide sustainable electricity as well as irrigation for farmlands.
Ahmad Shah, who has no last name, said he will expand his agricultural fields when the dam is built.
"People are happy that the construction work of the Pashdan Dam is progressing fast," he said. "A large number of Pashdan village residents have been working on the dam project, and this dam has made us hopeful. It is transforming the lives of a large number of residents of Herat Province."
"There has always been drought in our village, and once the dam is built, it will provide a permanent flow of irrigation water to our farmlands and enable us to earn a decent living," he added. "When the dam project is complete, all the land will be cultivated."
The Pashdan Dam and other national infrastructure projects make the public hopeful for a better and peaceful future, said Wahid Ahmad Qayoumi, a resident of Herat city.
"Afghanistan is not just a country of war and destruction," he said. "We know that the war is going on, but Afghanistan's progress and good aspects make the public hopeful. The construction of dams, highways and bridges as well as economic growth will lead us to a sustainable and peaceful Afghanistan."