The 150-year itch: Afghanistan-Iran hydropolitics over the Helmand/Hirmand River
ABSTRACT: Reports predict frighteningly serious escalations of the controversy between Afghanistan and its neighbours over transboundary waters. However, a postulated future is not empirical evidence. This paper focuses on Afghanistan’s relations with Iran. It aims to examine the evolution of the hydropolitical relations between Afghanistan and Iran over the Helmand River Basin and to identify where and how changes in the relationship occurred over the past century. The Transboundary Waters Interaction NexuS (TWINS) model is used to map the evolution of hydropolitical relations between the two riparian states. The paper also explores the dynamics of the political relations between the states in order to understand the potential for greater cooperation. While there is a complete disconnect between the two sides in terms of water management, the paper’s historical analysis shows that the frightening claims are not backed by facts on the ground and that they misrepresent the hydropolitical relations as they exist within the broader geopolitical context. The paper concludes that for both Afghanistan and Iran over the period of Western intervention and civil war, the water controversy has constantly been overshadowed by other priority concerns such as security, economy, and the quest for the stabilisation of Afghanistan. Enhanced water cooperation therefore depends on a change in the nature of geopolitical relations between the two countries and on the creation of a collective identity by Afghanistan and Iran over the Helmand River Basin.
KEYWORDS: Helmand/Hirmand River Basin, transboundary waters, cooperation, frozen conflict, Western interventions, geopolitics, Iran, Afghanistan