KABUL -- Iranian officials appear to have pledged their support for the Taliban in exchange for receiving water from Afghanistan, among other concessions made during a January meeting in Tehran, Afghan officials and activists said.
Based on information he has received about the meeting, Badghis provincial council chairman Abdul Aziz Baig said, the Taliban and Iranian officials made several commitments to each other on a variety of issues.
"The Iranian government supports the Taliban to protect its interests, whether it is water or harming the US," he said.
This support has included arms, he added, noting that Afghan forces have seized Iranian weapons from the Taliban on a number of occasions.
Afghan officials have repeatedly accused the Iranian regime of supporting the Taliban to prevent the construction of dams in the western region and to ensure the continuation of water flow into Iran.
"The Iran-backed Taliban are more active in Farah and Nimroz, since these provinces are on the border with Iran," Baig said.
"We call on the Taliban and Iran, who met behind closed doors to plot the destruction of dams in Afghanistan, especially Kamal Khan Dam, not to destroy Afghanistan," said Mohammad Anwar Sultani, a resident of the Nimroz provincial capital of Zaranj.
He called on the Taliban to stop serving the agenda of foreigners and to make peace with their people.
No more free water from Afghanistan
The construction of Kamal Khan Dam is creating animosity between Iran and Afghanistan, said Nematullah Sediqi, a member of the Nimroz provincial council.
Iran used free water from Afghanistan for decades, he said, and now that the water is being managed, the Iranian government has become more sensitive.
"The Iranian government is furious about the construction of dams in the western region, doing everything it can to stop construction of the Kamal Khan, Bakhshabad and Pashdan dams," he said.
Gone are those days of receiving free water from Afghanistan, he said, noting that it would be better for the Iranian government to engage in constructive talks with Afghanistan instead of supporting militants to destroy dams.
Faced with a drought in its eastern regions, Iran has become highly dependent on water from Afghanistan, said Ghor province activist Hasan Hakimi.
"If our dams stop the flow of water, several Iranian cities will face severe water shortages, forcing their residents to leave," he said.
The Afghan government has the right to contain its water in accordance with international laws and if Iran wants extra water, it must pay for it, he added.
Attacks on infrastructure
In recent years, the Taliban have repeatedly attacked dams in Afghanistan's western region in an attempt to stop construction -- but they have not succeeded.
The Taliban are intent on destroying any large, new national project, said Atiqullah Wasel, a resident of the Badghis provincial capital of Qala-e-Naw.
As a recent case in point, the Taliban on February 14 abducted 11 Afghan workers who were building Pashdan Dam in Herat.
Iran's hand in destroying dams or preventing their construction, via the Taliban, is unacceptable to the people of Afghanistan, who will stand up to the Taliban, said Firoz Koh resident Amir Mohammad Waseq.
"Dams will stop the flow of free water to Iran," said Qala-e-Naw activist Mohammad Naser Ahmadi. "The Iranian government gives the Taliban money and weapons, and in return, the Taliban destroy infrastructure."
"Destruction of transmission towers in Badghis province is a clear example of [the Taliban's] hostility towards development and prosperity in Afghanistan," he said.
"Residents of Badghis have been living in darkness for some time now, while the Taliban do not allow the repair of transmission towers," Ahmadi said.
While the Iranian regime and the Taliban have been plotting against dams in Afghanistan, construction of a number of dams is progressing very well, Afghan observers say.
Construction of Kamal Khan Dam's reservoir in Nimroz province, which borders Iran, started in early February and is scheduled to end soon.
The reservoir's construction is 99% complete, said Nimroz governor Zmaryalai Ahadi February 10, adding that impoundment of water has started.
President Ashraf Ghani is to inaugurate the dam, which is expected to boost the agricultural sector and create jobs in the province.
Meanwhile, diversion tunnels for Bakhshabad Dam are near completion, and construction workers plan to build the dam's main retaining wall soon, said Farah province governor Taj Muhammad Jahid.
With the construction of Bakhshabad Dam, a large share of the running water will be contained and will not flow to Iran, Jahid added.
Construction of Pashdan Dam in Karukh district is 60% complete, said Herat governor Sayed Wahid Qatali, noting that hundreds of workers are toiling round the clock to finish the job.
"We will inaugurate Pashdan Dam in a year," Qatali pledged.