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Daily Evacuation Brief | March 9, 2022
Open source daily news about Afghanistan and the surrounding region powered by Operation Snow Leopard
LAST 24 HOURS:
A gun battle erupted in the Keng district of Nimroz province between Iranian and Taliban border guards. Sources say the Iranians opened fire on Afghans who were digging a ditch to divert water, and the Taliban returned fire, killing two to four Iranians and destroying a security vehicle. The situation remains tense.
In separate incidents, unidentified gunmen have killed a senior trade representative of the former regime and a moneychanger who was reputedly involved in black market exchanges. Criminality appears to be on the uptick.
A physical altercation took place in the Palace between Haqqani and Khandahari loyalists. The fight broke out around the time a meeting was to take place with a Chinese delegation. No other information is available currently.
The Taliban have been particularly targeting Afghans who have ties to Australia and trying to ferret out any Australian ties they are unaware of during interrogations. We are not yet sure why.
The US Embassy – Kabul Facebook page and Twitter accounts have become active again. It is not yet clear why, but we do not believe any US personnel are in Kabul.
NEXT 24 HOURS:
Iran is dispatching a contingent of diplomats and military personnel to Kabul. It is assumed they will discuss the recent border incident and try to work out water rights.
The afghani is expected to experience some turmoil in the next 24-72 hours due to the announcement about the Asian Development Bank suspending their involvement in the TAPI pipeline project. We do not envision a significant drop, but at-risk Afghans should be prepared for economic turbulence. The afghani has been making steady incremental gains against the dollar for the past two months after a huge plunge following the Taliban takeover.
ANALYSIS SPOTLIGHT: Iran, the Taliban, and Water
CONTEXT: Water rights have been a major point of contention between Afghanistan and Iran for over a century. Afghanistan’s longest river, the Helmand, flows into Iran’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Hamun, which is situated on the border with most of its territory in Iran. Freshwater is scarce, and the water supply is critical to farmers on both the Afghan and Iranian sides, leading to major tensions.
Afghanistan and Iran struck a deal in 1973 outlining the amount of water that Afghanistan would allow to flow into Iran, but Iran claims that they receive insufficient river water due to Afghans regularly diverting it. The disagreement has turned deadly on a number of occasions, and the dispute will be a major test for budding relations between the Taliban and the Iranian government.
The most recent test was on Monday when several people were killed in a firefight that broke out between Iranian and Taliban border forces in Nimroz province. Iran has not yet commented on the skirmish, but several Afghan eyewitnesses stated the Iranian guards crossed the border and began firing on a group of farmers who were attempting to dig a channel to divert water from a nearby dam. The Taliban border guards engaged the Iranians, killing between 2 and 4 guards before the detachment retreated, leaving a destroyed vehicle on the Afghan side.
Memories of another clash are still fresh. In early December 2021, a fight took place near the Dahraes border checkpoint. Reportedly the Taliban opened fire on Iranian farmers who had crossed the border to dismantle a sluice gate that was diverting water on the Afghan side. The number of casualties from the engagement was never verified by either side. Both the Taliban and Iranian government claimed the clash occurred over a misunderstanding.
Making matters worse, Afghanistan and portions of Iran are dealing with the worst drought in decades. It is expected to continue into 2022 and has reduced crop production by as much as 20%.
Since the Taliban have come to power, Iran and the new regime have held a series of high-level dialogues with water rights high on the agenda. Although observers claim sufficient water appears to be flowing into Iran’s Lake Hamun, Iran continues to insinuate that Afghans divert more water than is permitted and perceptions remain negative.
ANALYSIS: The Iranian border guards’ choice to cross the border and attack the farmers shows how important the issue of water rights is in Iran. It is unlikely this specific incident will escalate. However, more deadly incidents are likely as the economic crisis, drought, and unresolved conflict on water rights drags on. Undoubtedly, the issue will continue to cloud relations between the two countries.
It is not yet clear whether any Taliban officials are taking the lead on the water dispute, but one option may be to return to the February 2021 plan agreed upon by the prior regime which called for establishing hydrometric stations in order to monitor how much water flows into Iran’s lake.
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