HERAT -- The Iranian consulate building in Herat remains a major obstacle to the city's trunk road construction project, local officials and residents say.
Work on widening the trunk road began in 2015 and ended a year later -- except for the portions where the consulate stands.
The road is 70 metres wide and spans 18km, with tall trees along both sides.
Iranian authorities have promised several times to move back the consulate's front wall, but they never delivered, said Ghulam Rasool Azeemi, a spokesman for Herat Municipality.
"The consulate's front wall is an obstacle to the implementation of Herat city's trunk road project," he said. "The trunk road expansion has been completed everywhere else, and residents have started to use the road. The only major obstacle to Herat Municipality's development work has been the wall of the consulate."
"During the past five years, officials at the Iranian consulate have promised that they'd help move the consulate wall back from the middle of the [widened] road, but they have never fulfilled their promise, always bringing up an excuse," Azeemi said.
Local authorities raised the issue with the consulate "several times ... and asked them to help with addressing these issues, but it has always refused to help, preventing the process of development in the city", said Azeemi.
"The Afghan government has exhausted all diplomatic and neighbourly channels to convince Iran to move its consulate wall back in Herat city, but Iran hasn't taken any action to resolve this issue," said Jilani Farhad, a spokesman for the Herat governor.
"In exchange for the 1,600-square-metre area the consulate will lose pulling back its front wall, the Afghan government has proposed giving Iran 2,246 square metres of land in Dar-ul-Aman and 36,900 square metres of land in Shahr-e Naw," he said, referring to two neighbourhoods in Kabul. "This proposal has been approved by the Afghan cabinet."
"Residents of Herat city have been suffering because of the Iranian consulate [building], and there have been accidents due to road closures and traffic congestion," said Toryalai Taheri, deputy chairman of the Herat provincial council.
The government of Iran is trying to take advantage of the situation, according to Jawad Ameed, a civil society activist in Herat city.
"Iran has been using this issue to exert political leverage in an effort to achieve its goals in Afghanistan," he said.
Tehran has often put pressure on the Afghan government in connection with the consulate wall issue, he said.
"The government of Iran was directly involved in sacking Farhad Niayesh, the former mayor of Herat city," he said. "[He] decided to remove the blocks in front of the Iranian consulate to open the sidewalk, but the mayor faced a harsh reaction from the Iranian government. It exerted pressure from various sides that ended up in the sacking of the mayor."
"The words of Iranian officials totally contradict their actions, and they never deliver on their promises," Ameed said.
"The issue of the Iranian consulate wall in Herat city reveals that the consulate doesn't represent the Iranian Foreign Ministry, but it is rather linked with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and other violent circles who don't want the issue to be addressed," he added.
With the unresolved issue of the consulate building, plus the Iranian military's recent abuse and reported drowning of Afghan migrant workers, anger toward Iran is growing.
The Iranian regime has always claimed it is a friend of Afghanistan, but in reality, it is the enemy of the Afghan people and government, said Noor Ahmad Nazari, a resident of Herat city.
"Iran has blocked a road in our own country by leaving a wall in the middle of it," he said. "We condemn this act, as it proves Iran's enmity toward Afghanistan. Iran has closed the city's trunk road, and we see accidents and traffic congestion every day in front of the Iranian consulate."
"Iran has always proved that it's the enemy of Afghanistan," he said, pointing to the incident on May 1, in which Iranian forces threw 47 Afghan migrants into a river.
Meanwhile, in an incident on June 3 that was caught on video, Iranian forces shot at a vehicle carrying Afghan migrants in Mehriz city, Yazd Province, leaving three dead and eight seriously wounded in the resulting flames.
The consulate issue is stirring the ire of Afghans, agreed Hamed Haidari, a resident of Herat city.
"The Iranian consulate building has become a huge obstruction in Herat city, causing traffic accidents and distress," he said.
"This consulate is an example of Iran's destructive efforts in Afghanistan," he added. "Every time we see the Iranian consulate's wall [in the middle of the road] in Herat city, our hatred of Iran increases."
"We are not safe from Iranian interference in our country, and our Afghan refugees are harassed in Iran by the brutal government," he said. "No one in the world has witnessed the kind of atrocities the Iranian government commits against Afghans."
Tehran is refusing to move the consulate wall in Herat as a show of power, said Mustafa Ahmadi, a resident of Herat city.
"All shops, houses and mosques along the road have been pulled back to allow for the road expansion, but the Iranian consulate has disrupted the implementation of the project," he said.
"We see huge traffic congestion every day in front of the Iranian consulate," he said. "During the coronavirus outbreak, crowds can be very dangerous to public health and the situation threatens many lives."
"We call on the government of Afghanistan to respond to Iran's resistance and display of power and to remove the consulate wall as soon as possible from the middle of the road," Ahmadi said.