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Rising Tensions after the Return of the Taliban

Iran and Afghanistan share a standard border, comparable languages and cultures, and in some ways frequent regional pursuits. However the Taliban takeover of the Afghan authorities in 2021 has launched new challenges to this relationship. These challenges embrace the entry to water from Afghan rivers, the massive variety of Afghan refugees in Iran, the stream of illicit medication into Iran, and the Taliban assault on Shia Muslims.

Hassle on the border

On July 3, 2022, Iranian border authorities and Taliban border guards engaged in gun battles on the Iran-Afghan border within the Iranian province of Baluchistan. One particular person on the Afghan aspect was killed. Iran claims the conflict occurred as a result of Taliban forces tried to boost their flag “in an space that’s not Afghan territory” (Reuters, 2022). This conflict, whereas minor in comparison with preventing in different areas, is indicative of the rising tensions. On August 14th, 2022, an Iranian delegation arrived in Kabul to debate border points with Afghanistan, and notably the growing conflicts between the 2 nations relating to water rights and refugees. This coincided with the July conflict within the Darwish space of Kang district of Nimruz Province of Afghanistan the place at the very least one Taliban soldier was killed (Eqbal, 2022).

Iran and Afghanistan share a 572-mile border that begins in Northwest Afghanistan on the tripoint with Turkmenistan and ends on the southern tripoint with Pakistan. The border was drawn largely by the British in 1872. In that 12 months, a committee headed by British civil servant Sir Frederic Goldsmid was requested by the Iranian Shah Naser al-Din Shah Qajar to find out the border after a collection of clashes between Iran and Afghanistan (Balland, 2000). This drawing of the border has been typically accepted since, however in some areas tensions stay. The world alongside the border is usually arid, supporting little inhabitation, apart from the Lake Hamun space close to the Zabol-Zaranj border within the southern area. There are three main border crossings: Islam Qala within the northern space, Abu Nasr Farahi within the center space, and the Zaranj border crossing within the southern Baluchistan space. The Zaranj border crossing is the main crossing. Most items and merchandise enter Afghanistan via the Zaranj crossing and that is additionally the place most Afghan refugees try and enter Iran. This space encompassing japanese Iran, western Afghanistan, and elements of Central Asia is thought in Persian as Khorasan and was established as a area throughout the Sasanian dynasty (224–651 CE) – the final Iranian dynasty earlier than the approaching of Islam. This space is necessary in Iranian mythology and performs a significant position in Persian legends and folktales (Zeidan).

Herat, the main metropolis in western Afghanistan, is over 100 miles from the border, and Mashhad, the main metropolis in japanese Iran is roughly 130 miles from the border. Zaranj, the one Afghan metropolis close to the border, has a inhabitants of over 100,000 folks. Zaranj – an Afghan metropolis within the Dasht-e Margow desert within the southern space – has little political or financial significance. It’s recognized principally as a leaping off place for smugglers going into or out of Iran. Regardless of its remoteness, the Zaranj border crossing sees appreciable site visitors. Items crossing the border embrace development materials, petroleum and meals objects principally travelling from Iran to Afghanistan. Afghanistan makes appreciable cash taxing items coming into the nation. Nevertheless maybe a very powerful and contentious exports to Iran are refugees and unlawful medication.

Water Rights                           

The Helmand River begins as a tributary within the Sanglakh vary of the Hindu Kush in Northeastern Afghanistan. It then flows southwest throughout Afghanistan passing although the Afghan metropolis of Lashkargah and finally feeding Hamun Lake on the southern border between Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. It’s the main water supply for the Sistan Basin in southwest Afghanistan and southeast Iran. Lake Hamun is a collection of lakes, shallow lagoons, and marshes, situated principally in Iran. The lake has no retailers, so the water that flows into the lake stays there (or evaporates). It’s Iran’s largest freshwater lake – necessary to the economic system and the setting. Lake Hamun is within the Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchistan, the poorest province in Iran. Between 1999 and 2001 a extreme drought within the area led to a shrinking water provide; in some areas the lake fully dried up. The Iranian authorities estimates that 25% to 30% of the inhabitants within the area have left the realm over the previous 20 years due to water shortages and moved to the suburbs of main Iranian cities within the area (VonHein 2021). In 2016 UNESCO designated Lake Hamun a world biosphere reserve with the aim of preserving the ecological, cultural, and financial significance of the lake. The water from the Helmand is important to farmers on either side of the border, and conflicts have lately arisen over who will get to manage the water. Over time Afghanistan has constructed a collection of dams to manage water stream from the Helmand River for irrigation and hydro-electric energy. These dams have restricted the quantity of water going to Iran, to Iran’s growing consternation.

A significant situation of competition between Iran and Afghanistan is the development of the Kamal Khan Dam in Afghanistan on the decrease Helmand. The dam is situated about 60 miles southeast of Zaranj – about 60 miles from the border. Work on the dam started in 1996, however development was suspended due to preventing in Afghanistan and an absence of technical experience. The venture resumed in 2014 and the dam was formally inaugurated in March 2021. Iran has expressed issues in regards to the dam, fearing it might shut off or dramatically cut back their water provide for this arid area. In 1973 Iran and Afghanistan had signed a water sharing accord giving Iran the rights to 22 cubic meters per second of water with the choice of a further 4 cubic toes (VonHein, 2021). Iran maintains that this isn’t an equitable settlement and that it ought to obtain extra water. On August 3, 2022, Mujeeb-ur-Rahman Omar, Taliban deputy minister of power and water, stated that the Taliban authorities wouldn’t grant Iran further water provide as was agreed upon within the treaty.

At present with out diplomatic relations between the 2 nations (Iran doesn’t acknowledge the Taliban authorities) and with nobody in Kabul to debate this situation with, there may be little probability of reaching a extra equitable settlement. Including to the strain, Iran claims that Afghan farmers are digging further water canals to seize much more water – and armed battle between the Iranian navy and Afghan farmers over these water rights has taken place (Ramachandran 2022).


One other situation that has prompted pressure between Afghanistan and Iran is the rising refugees scenario. On the time of the Taliban takeover in August 2021, it was estimated that there have been over 3 million Afghan refugees in Iran of which 780,000 are registered and one other 586,000 are admitted with passports and visas (Wealthy, 2022). There isn’t any correct depend of the non-registered refugees, the place they stay, or what they do. Nevertheless, though the refugees in Iran come from all areas of Afghanistan and characterize all ethnic teams, it’s typically believed that they’re principally Tajiks (Persian audio system) or Hazara (Shia Muslims present process persecution in Afghanistan). A lot of the Afghan refugee inhabitants in Iran is concentrated across the main cities the place they try to seek out work in low degree development trades (Sawhney 2020).

Afghan refugees who’re formally registered in Iran have some assist. Their kids are allowed to go to high school, they’re eligible for medical providers, and Afghan males are allowed to marry Iranian girls. However for these Afghans in Iran who usually are not formally registered, maybe many of the Afghans in Iran, the scenario will not be good. With the Taliban take over, the variety of Afghans fleeing to Iran has dramatically elevated. In 2021 the Norwegian Refugee council estimated that as many as 4,000-5,000 Afghans are fleeing to Iran every day (Jazeera 2021). Most tried to enter Iran illegally across the Southern border close to Zaranj. Studies describe Zaranj as overflowing with Afghans in search of to be smuggled into Iran (France24, 2022). Iran has additionally been sending unregistered refugees again to Afghanistan. It’s estimated that over a million Afghan refugees who have been in Iran have been despatched again to Afghanistan in 2021, principally after the Taliban take over. In lots of circumstances, the returning refugees merely flip round and try and flee to Iran once more (Omid, 2021).

The refugee scenario has created friction between Iran and Afghanistan. Movies exhibiting Afghan refugees being mistreated by Iranian border guards have been proven on Kabul TV creating anger amongst Afghans. In Kabul protesters have demonstrated on the Iranian Embassy and thrown rocks on the Iranian consulate in Zaranj (Khan, 2022). This refugee situation is certain to escalate as extra Afghans attempt to flee and Iran continues to ship them again.


For the final a number of many years Afghanistan has been the world’s main producer of opium. It’s now branching out – producing heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamines. In 2020, the final 12 months that statistics on opium manufacturing have been reported, Afghanistan produced over 6,000 tons of opium and 320 tons of pure heroin, supplying 85 p.c of the worldwide opium manufacturing (UNODC, 2021). This drug commerce produces over 2 billion {dollars}, of which most goes to smugglers and traffickers and little to the farmers. Most of those medication are smuggled via Iran, Pakistan, or north via Central Asia.

Historically Iran, and different nations within the area, have allowed using opium – however not alcohol or different medication. The Islamic authorities in Iran has gone backwards and forwards on using opium, primarily declaring it unlawful, however understanding that it’s use is frequent. References to opium are present in classical Iranian literature and folklore. The Persian phrase for opium is afyun or taryak, and it’s seen as an antidote for the troubles of the world and a drugs for treating illness. Whereas Iran might have accepted the restricted home use of opium previously, this view has modified in the previous couple of years as Iran had seen a dramatic enhance within the abuse of medication. Iran now has the second most extreme opioid dependancy on the planet (Zarghami, 2015). Most of those medication come from Afghanistan. Whereas the Taliban have formally outlawed the rising of opium and the manufacturing of heroin, it continues unabated.

Iran has transfer aggressively to cease the stream of unlawful medication into the nation. In line with the UNOCD World Drug report, Iran accounts for 74 per cent of the world’s opium seizures and 25 per cent of the world’s heroin and morphine seizures. Iran has spent tens of millions of {dollars} yearly on border management. Preventing medication on the Afghan border is harmful work. Iran stories that greater than 3,700 drug brokers have been killed and over 12,000 injured in counter-narcotics operations. (UNODC, 2021).

The Persecution of Shia Muslims

Afghanistan is a majority Islamic nation, though it had a small Hindu and Sikh inhabitants till current occasions. As well as, there have been small, however energetic, Catholic and Jewish communities in Kabul – most of whom have left. There are additionally small populations of Ismailis and Zoroastrians. The Muslim inhabitants in Afghanistan makes up 99 per cent of the inhabitants and is split between Sunni Muslims of between 80–85 per cent, and Shia Muslims who comprise the remaining 15–20 per cent. No correct census of Afghanistan has ever been tried, so inhabitants numbers are educated guesses (CIA, 2022).

The Taliban observe a conservative model of Islamic fundamentalist Islam known as Deobandism. Deobandism developed within the Indian subcontinent within the 1850s. It was preached by Pakistani Islamic events in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan within the Eighties. There it combined with Pashtun tribal customs to kind a really conservative spiritual/cultural ideology that dramatically restricted the position of ladies and referred to as for the punishment of different religions. Deobandism, at the very least as practiced by the Taliban, is very hostile in the direction of different Islamic sects, notably Shia Muslims, whom they think about heretics and idolators.

Shia Islam got here to Afghanistan between 1501 and 1736 CE when the Safavid dynasty dominated Iran and managed a big space of central Asia. The Shia in Afghanistan belong principally to the Hazara ethnic group, but in addition consists of the small numbers of Qizilbash and different small Shia populations. The Hazara traditionally stay within the excessive mountains of the Hindu Kush in an space referred to as the Hazarajat, though in the previous couple of many years many have moved to Kabul, the place they now stay in giant encampments across the metropolis. The Shia are thought of heretics and idolaters by the Taliban and are harassed and even murdered. This persecution of Shia is partly as a result of the Shia venerate descendants of the Prophet Mohammed, whom they name Imams. These imams stay within the Shia group as a separate caste. The Shia veneration of the prophet’s household challenges Mohammed because the final of the prophets and that is thought of heretical to Sunni Muslims.

Up to now the Taliban has killed lots of of Afghan Shia, principally Hazara. A lot of the killings have been bombing of Shia mosques, though Shia are additionally randomly pulled from buses or singled out in public and shot. Complicating the image, lots of the killings often is the work of the Islamic State of Khorasan, which shares the identical view of the Shia because the Taliban. Iran has good purpose to worry the Taliban’s therapy of Shia in Afghanistan. When the Taliban first managed Afghanistan between 1996–2001, it murdered 10 Iranian diplomats and an Iranian journalist in Mazar-Sharif in August 1998 on the Iranian consulate. The killing was considered the work of Sipah-e Shahaba Pakistan, a Pakistani terrorist group working with the Taliban. The killings have been considered revenge for Iran’s assist for the resistance group, the Northern Alliance, which had killed a number of hundred Taliban fighters beforehand.

As the main Shia nation on the planet, Iran sees that its position is to assist and shield Shia populations all through the Islamic world. Iran has additionally created a navy unit known as the Fatemiyouon, made up of Afghan-Shia refugees in Iran. Fatemiyoun, Liwa Fatemiyoun in Arabic, actually means Fatimid’s Banner, and was shaped by Iran in 2014 to battle in Syria to defend the shrine of Zaynab bint Ali, who’s the prophet Mohammed’s granddaughter (Jamal 2018). This unit has been utilized by Iran to help Shia resistance actions in Syria and Yemen. Since it’s made up principally of Afghan Shia who’ve fled to Iran, there may be an expectation that the Fatemiyouon could also be despatched to Afghanistan by Iran to guard the Afghan Shia. however, up to now, this has not occurred.


Iran and Afghanistan share a standard historical past, a protracted border, an identical language, and tradition. But they’ve had had conflicts over water rights, refugees, medication, and the persecution of Shia and different teams. The Taliban have been in energy in Afghanistan for a 12 months on the time of writing, and Iran continues to be making an attempt to establish if they will work with the Taliban in any capability. The tensions between Iran and Afghanistan might nicely enhance, and the potential of armed battle stays.


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