KABUL -- Afghans who spoke to Salaam Times said they regard the Iranian president's recent comments regarding water rights as threatening, and they contend Iran is playing a political game that goes against accepted international principles.
During a Thursday (May 18) visit to Sistan and Baluchestan province, Iran, Ebrahim Raisi accused Afghan authorities of not meeting their obligations to provide Iran with its "water rights" from the Helmand river.
Using threatening language, he accused Afghanistan of failing to honour its commitments under a 1973 treaty and of failing to offer the necessary co-operation in supplying Iran's legal water rights.
"I warn the officials and rulers of Afghanistan to immediately honour the rights of the people and the region of Sistan and Baluchestan," he said, calling for Iranian specialists to be allowed to assess Afghan claims of insufficient water.
"If water is short, we have no claim," he said. "But if there is water, then the rights of the people of Sistan and Baluchestan should be honoured, and we will not allow the rights of the people to be violated."
"According to the international treaty, 820 million cubic metres of water from the Helmand river should flow into Iran in years when there is enough water," Iranian ambassador to Kabul Hassan Kazemi Qomi told Iranian media.
"But last year only 27 million cubic metres of water flowed into Iran."
Afghan authorities regarded Raisi's statement as inappropriate and harmful, while some in the country accused Iran of trying to revisit the water treaty.
"Iranian authorities should first obtain complete information regarding Helmand water and then present their demands in appropriate language," Afghan authorities said in a statement released a day after Raisi's remarks.
"Making such statements without carefully studying the reality can damage the political environment between the two Muslim peoples and countries, which is in the interest of neither side and should not continue," it said.
"Repeated demands for water rights from the Helmand river are political manoeuvering, a political game," on the part of the Iranian government, Kabul-based political analyst Zalmai Afghanyar told Salaam Times.
"On one hand, by making such statements, it wants to mask the political and economic problems and its own failures to gain support from its people," he said.
"On the other hand, it pressures Afghanistan to deliver more water."
"Iran can never take away the right of Afghans by force and intimidation," Afghanyar added. "The Iranian president's threats will provoke Afghans to react and damage relations between the two countries."
"The Iranian president's threatening statement is against the political ethics and logic of a president and in violation of neighbourly and internationally accepted principles," said Kabul-based political analyst Salim Paigir.
"Such threats are not acceptable to Afghans and will push the people of the two countries into conflict," he told Salaam Times.
"In the past 44 years, Iran fuelled war and conflict in Afghanistan for its own benefit," Paiger said. "Contrary to the treaty, it has received billions of cubic metres of water every year."
"If there were accountability one day, Iranians would owe $70 to $80 billion for the excess water they have received."
"With such statements, the Iranian president wants to show to the people of Sistan and Baluchestan that he is serving them and is ensuring their rights," he noted.
"But in reality, throughout history, the Iranian government has discriminated against, oppressed and violated the rights of its minorities."
"The words and the threatening rhetoric that the president of Iran used regarding his country's water rights were gutter language," Kabul University graduate Abdul Musawer, 26, told Salaam Times.
"Our people did not expect this from the highest authority in Iran," he said.
"To secure its economic interests in Afghanistan, the Iranian government has always tried to bring insecurity and instability to our country," Musawer said.
"It has tried to destroy Afghanistan's dams, and now it is trying to fan ethnic divisions and civil war" in order to access Afghanistan's water, he said.
"According to the treaty, Iran's share is 26 cubic metres of water per second, but if it receives more than that, then it has to pay Afghanistan $1 per cubic metre of water," said Kabul-based political analyst Noorulhaq.
"Water levels have dropped 12-fold since the treaty was signed," he told Salaam Times. "According to the treaty, Iran is not entitled to 26 cubic metres of water [per second], and it should not get free water anymore."
"For more than four decades, the Iranians did not allow the construction of Kamal Khan dam, while during construction work on dams in the country, dozens of guards protecting these dams were killed," he added.
"[Afghans] do not want their water to be looted by the Iranians anymore."
Iran and Afghanistan have similar arid and semi-arid climates, water resource specialist Najib Aqa Fahim told Salaam Times.
"Each drop of water is critical to both countries; therefore, water from the Helmand river has been a problem for a long time between the two countries," he added.
"In 1973, a treaty to determine Iran's water rights was signed between the two countries, but war and insecurity started soon after that in our country," Fahim said. "Therefore, we .... couldn't use our water properly."
"Using this opportunity, Iran unilaterally used all water from the Helmand river and others including the Farah river. In violation of the treaty, it has also built numerous projects in its Sistan and Zahedan regions."
"In recent years, Afghanistan had the opportunity and was able to build dams and manage and use its water to an extent," he said.
"The Iranians proposed talks, during which they implied that Afghanistan has violated the treaty," he added.
"During the talks, we reached the conclusion that Iran is not interested in the implementation of the treaty but wants to revisit it and sign another legal document so that it can use [more of] Afghanistan's water," he said.
"The Iranian president's positioning is political, threatening and contrary to the principles foreseen in the water treaty," Fahim added. "Iran wants the treaty to be revisited in the [post-August 2021] absence of experts in Afghanistan so that it can use more water."