A Taliban minister has dismissed as rumor Iranian reports that Afghanistan’s new rulers have allowed water from the Kamal Khan Dam to flow into to Iran.
Iran's state-run television (IRIB) Wednesday reported that the water, released Tuesday, was heading to Iran and would soon reach Hamun Lake, Sistan-Baluchestan province, following diplomatic contacts with the Taliban designed to revive the Afghan-Iranian 1973 treaty over sharing waters of Helmand River (also known as the Hermand).
The previous Afghan government stopped the flow of water to Iran after inaugurating the Kamal Khan Dam, in Nimroz province, in March. In a speech unveiling the dam March 24 President Ashraf Ghani, while expressing commitment to the 1973 agreement, apparently suggested Kabul wanted to trade water for oil.
According to Afghanistan's Herat News, the Taliban minister of water and electricity Abdul Latif Mansur said Wednesday that water from the dam had now been released only for the use of Afghan farmers and that any other claims were “rumors.”
Another reason why the Taliban opened water from the dam could be heavy snow and rain in the region for the past ten days. Some local dams in Iran became full and authorities had to release excess water.
But Iran’s Javan newspaper ran a report Thursday in which Hasan Kazemi-Ghomi, Tehran’s representative for Afghan affairs, expressed appreciation for the Taliban releasing Iran’s “share of water."
Javan, which is affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), wrote that in contrast to the previous Afghan authorities, the Taliban “abides with the official agreements with Iran and does not oppose Iran's share of the waters of Hirmand." Looking forward to the water reaching the parched Hirmand River and Hamun Lake, Javan suggested this resulted from discussions during the visit of Afghan Foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi earlier this month and a “five-month friendship-diplomacy."
The Taliban government is yet to be fully recognized by any country, and some Iranian media have suggested the Taliban may be looking to trade water for full diplomatic relations.
In a commentary headlined "Water in Return for Recognition," the reformist Etemad newspaper said Thursday that the Taliban's intentions were unclear. Opening the dam’s gates during the rainy season might be a bargaining gambit, it suggested, rather than acceptance of the 1973 Afghan-Iran treaty, under which Afghanistan agreed to release annually around 850 million cubic meters of water (26 m3 per second) to Iran.
Tehran has for decades complained about not always receiving this share. In 1999, for instance, the Taliban turned off the flow completely. In August a Taliban spokesman dismissed as "enemy propaganda" reports and a video circulating on social media showing waters flowing from the Kamal Khan Dam towards Iran, insisting the water was not for Iran.
A recent report by the Iranian Parliament’s Research Center said around one-fifth of 282 Iranian cities are facing water shortages. Sistan-Baluchestan, one of the provinces hit worst by drought, has seen hundreds of villages abandoned in the past two decades.