A glance to Iran and Afghanistan relations

The history of the conflict between Iran and Afghanistan over the waters of Hirmand


Afghanistan and Iran, having a common border of about 978 kilometers, are among the lands that have unbreakable cultural and historical relations. Khorasan, the name that applied to both Iran and Afghanistan today. However, in the 18th and 19th AD, following the buffering policies of the Indo-British Empire, the border between the two countries raised, which accompanied by conflict and conflict. Iran and Afghanistan have always had historical, cultural and linguistic relations, but the political relations of these two countries have depended on the role and presence of global regional actors. Considering the “peripheral” position of Iran and Afghanistan in the international system, it is obvious that he investigated the political relations of these two countries by ignoring the role of great powers. Afghanistan and Iran were one country until 1897 AH; but according to the interests of the British Empire, Afghanistan and Iran separated and Afghanistan became a barrier between India and Iran. Iran-Afghanistan relations have had vicissitudes from the time of separation until 1978, which considered relatively weak relations. However, with the implementation of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the relations between these two countries changed and the role of Iran in Afghanistan’s relations increased. According to the historical study of relations between Afghanistan and Iran, the dispute over water and borders, it has been one of the main points of dispute between both countries.

The history of the conflict between Iran and Afghanistan over the waters of Hirmand

In times of water scarcity, disputes and conflicts always occur between Iranians and the Afans living in the Hirmand river basin, and these disputes and disputes, as well as border disputes, forced the Iranian government to, according to the sixth article of the Iran-British peace treaty in 1857. The issue of water sharing Hirmand, and to refer the delineation of the borders, to the British government. This agreement had committed the Iranian government to refer all its disputes with the Afghan government to British arbitration, and the British government had committed to settle these disputes according to the law and taking into account the dignity of the Iranian government.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of England appointed General Goldsmith as the mission officer. General Smith issued his arbitration award in 1872. This vote, which accepted by the Iran-Afghan governments the following year, was all related to border determination. Only the last sentence stipulated that none of the parties should take action that would cause the deduction of water necessary for irrigation of Hirmand beaches. However, at the request of the Afghan government, the British foreign minister, with the opinion of General Goldsmith, interpreted the arbitration agreement in such a way that it does not include current or old unused channels that the Afghan government intended to repair. This sentence did not mean to prevent the digging of new canals, if the amount of water needed to make liquor in the Iranian part not deducted.

The summary of Gold Smith’s judgment was that both Iran and Afghanistan should enjoy the water of Hirmand equally, and if Afghanistan settles the streams that branch off from this river, it should not be to the detriment of Iran’s water rights. But at the end of the 19th century, the change of Hirmand’s route caused new disputes and these disputes intensified in the years 1901 to 1903 due to lack of water, as a result of which the Iranian government once again requested arbitration from the British government based on the sixth article of the peace treaty. . In 1903, Colonel McMahon became the chief of the army. Both Iran and Afghanistan stipulated that Gold Smith’s opinion should respected in McMahon’s decision; otherwise, they will not accept the arbitration. McMahon issued his vote in the winter of 1906, which reached from Hirmand River to Kamal Khan Dam, gave two-thirds to Afghanistan and one-third to Iran, and allowed the governments of Iran and Afghanistan to use the existing streams and to use the abandoned streams. Rehabilitate and build new streams, if the amount of water required for the irrigation of the lands of each of the two countries not reduced.

On the other hand, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, in a letter dated February 1905 to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of England, objected to McMahon’s decision and announced that one-third of Hirmand water is not enough for Iran. In addition, considering the amount of agriculture in the two countries, two-thirds should be given to Iran and one-third be given to Afghanistan. In addition, it stipulated only for the Iranian government to hand over its share of Hirmand water to a third country without Afghanistan’s consent. However, such a condition not made for Afghanistan, the Iranian side called this case insulting. Iran’s other objection was that McMahon had arranged for a permanent engineer to be present at the British Consulate in Sistan in order to resolve future disputes; Iran considered such a decision contrary to Iran’s right to sovereignty. As a result, Iran did not accept General McMahon’s arbitration and the same arrangement of equal water distribution officially maintained. Agents from Iran used to go and distribute the water, although in practice, Iran’s share was more than half and sometimes three quarters of the water or more went to Iran, which always caused protests in Afghanistan.

Disputes and even conflicts between the residents of both sides of Iran and Afghanistan continued over Hirmand water. During the time of Reza Shah Pahlavi, when the two countries took steps to get closer to each other, from 1933 they started negotiations on the disputes over the borders and water rights of Hirmand, which led to the resolution of the border disputes in 1935. Because the negotiations on Hirmand water rights could prolonged, the governments of Iran and Afghanistan sent their representatives to the place, and on March 3, 1936, by signing a temporary protocol, they agreed that whatever amount of water reaches the Kamal Khan Dam, would be distributed equally between the two countries. The country should divided.

Afghanistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Mohammad Khan signed a joint declaration in Kabul, in which the two countries agreed that every year the amount of water from the Hirmand River that reaches the Kamal Khan Dam would transferred from that dam onwards to should be divided equally between the two countries. The day after signing this declaration, direct telegraph communication between Iran and Afghanistan established through two telegraph stations. In order not to consume more water than the amount of water that was taken at that time, the Afghan government pledged not to build a new waterway in the distance between Ten Four Towers and Kamal Khan Dam. In addition, both the governments of Iran and Afghanistan pledged not to take any actions and operations from Kamal Khan Dam to Deh Dost Mohammad Khan and Sikh Sarkeh, which was the last water division, which would reduce the share of each party. The National Council of Iran approved this declaration on 11 May 1939, but the Afghan Parliament refused to approve the declaration, and after that, the Afghans began to engineer the Baqarah and Siraj rivers, which deprived Iran of most of the Hirmand water. Deprived The Afghans had blocked the water path in Khwaja Ali and Qazi Shirjan and diverted it to fresh streams, and the little water that passed through this place went into the Gohak dam.

On the other hand, Iran’s occupation in 1941 and Iran’s preoccupation with the political and economic problems brought about by the Second World War and the transformation of the political situation in the country was an opportunity for Afghanistan to divert the water of the Hirmand River to its lands, contrary to its previous commitments. To pay Iran-Afghanistan relations, which had brought a lot closer between the two countries during Reza Shah’s era, started with a new challenge during Mohammad Reza Shah’s era with a dispute over Haqaba Hirmand.

Agreement on Hirmand water 

Dr. Abdulzaher in 1971 Roy Karzan. Mohammad Musa Shafiq, a well-known name in Afghanistan’s water relations, was the foreign minister at that time, who became the prime minister after Dr. Zahir. Mohammad Musa Shafiq started his efforts to modernize the country, both internally and externally. In domestic relations, he tried to restore the safe atmosphere in the country and curb the movements of Marxist and Islamic extremist groups; but in the foreign dimension, he tried to move Afghanistan’s foreign policy from an excessive tendency towards the Soviet Union to a path of neutrality. He was trying to get economic aid from Iran and the Arab countries of the region in order to overcome the many problems that plagued Afghanistan and to cut off Afghanistan’s needs from the Soviet Union. However, these aids required solving Afghanistan’s differences with its two neighboring and Muslim countries, Iran and Pakistan. Therefore, Prime Minister Shafiq took a step forward in resolving the dispute with Iran over how to divide the water of the Hirmand River.

On the other hand, based on the Pollster report, the United States government proposed a neutrality commission called the “Delta Commission” to solve this problem. In March 1950, three experts named Francisco Domin Guez from Chile, Robert Lowry from America and Christopher Nye Webb from Canada chosen. The result of this commission’s research in 1951 was to choose 640 million cubic meters per year or 22 cubic meters per second for Iran. Afghanistan accepted the opinion of this commission. However, because some parts of the commission’s report were to the detriment of Sistan and parts of it were ambiguous, and in addition, there were no comments on several issues claimed by the Iranian government, Iran neither accepted nor rejected the commission’s proposals.

Finally, on March 22, 1972, the report of the Delta Commission was signed between Amir Abbas Hoyda, the then prime minister of Iran, and Mohammad Moussa Shafiq, the then prime minister of Afghanistan, in Kabul, and it was decided that 26 cubic meters of water per second (equivalent to 850 million cubic meters per year) would be Sistan’s share. In addition, Hamon Lake, which was 22 cubic meters of water per second based on the report of the Delta Commission and four cubic meters of water per second as “goodwill and fraternal interests”. However, this agreement has always violated by both countries. In addition, during many years when Afghanistan was in an unstable situation, especially civil wars, the Iranian side used more than the agreed amount of water. With the establishment of the new government in Afghanistan after the Bonn International Conference, the Afghan government once again turned its attention to water resources and took action to contain the waters and build dams along the Hirmand Sea. Salma Dam and Kamal Khan Dam, the construction of which was started years ago and was stopped due to instability and wars, was started during the time of Hamid Karzai, the former president of Afghanistan, and was completed and put into operation during the time of President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani. The containment of water and the construction of dams accompanied by anger on the part of Iran, which occasionally caused differences and verbal disputes between the political leaders of the two countries. However, with the resurgence of the Taliban and the drought that has lasted for years, the conflict over Hirmand water has escalated to such an extent that it has even led to military attacks. Besides, the Taliban officials always talk about ensuring and adhering to the 1972 agreement between the two countries, but the Iranian side seems to be displeased and has made statements from time to time.


According to the experience, both countries of Iran and Afghanistan used to ask for cooperation in the form of arbitration in cases of disputes from the influential countries of the Wajan region. In the current situation, such an action should take and they should propose to the United Nations and powerful countries to arbitrate and arbitrate this issue. However, the main problem is the non-recognition of the Taliban regime as an official government, which prevents such an action.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of South Asia Strategic Research Center (GASAM)

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