Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities and neighboring Iran said Sunday deadly clashes between their border security forces had subsided, with both sides engaging in talks to ease tensions.
The skirmishes erupted in the Afghan border province of Nimroz Saturday, killing two Iranian security forces and a Taliban border guard, officials in both countries said.
Both sides traded blame for the heavy exchange of cross-border gunfire, escalating Iran’s tensions with Afghanistan amid a dispute over water resources.
Sunday, the Iranian state-run IRNA news agency quoted a senior official as saying that “the situation is under control” in the conflict zone near the Sasuli border post in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province.
Alireza Marhamati, the deputy provincial governor, said that “local Iranian and Afghan officials have held negotiations on the cause of the clashes and agreed to continue their talks.”
A spokesman for the Afghan Interior Affairs Ministry said in a statement that his government “does not want to fight with its neighbors” and insisted Iranian forces started the conflict, prompting Afghan border forces to retaliate.
Bilateral tensions have recently escalated over Iranian allegations that the Taliban are breaching a 1973 water-sharing treaty between Tehran and Kabul by blocking water flow from Helmand River, which flows from Afghanistan to Iran’s arid eastern border regions.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, during a visit to the border province, called on the Taliban to respect the treaty, which envisions shared water resources and outlines access to monitoring of the water level. Raisi warned the de facto Afghan rulers against violating the agreement and vowed to defend Iran’s water rights.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan believes dialogue and negotiation are a good path to addressing any issue. Making excuses for war and negative actions do not serve the interest of any of the parties,” Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Enayatullah Khowarazmi wrote on his official Twitter account.
The United Nations says Afghanistan and Iran have suffered from a prolonged drought, and drought conditions have worsened over the past decade.
Last week, Afghan Foreign Affairs Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, responding to threatening statements by the Iranian leadership, said that Kabul was committed to the water treaty.
In a televised speech, Muttaqi urged Tehran not to overlook the region’s drought and try to resolve the issue in “face-to-face talks instead of making noises” through media.
“We also expect the officials of Iran to adjust their expectations in line with the treaty and base the criteria for judgment and comments on the provisions contained in the treaty,” he added.
Analysts warned that Afghanistan and the region at large could ill afford another conflict.
Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan official, said the Taliban would avoid a standoff with Iran. He noted that Afghanistan is fragile after 40 years of war, and four million Afghans live on Iranian soil as refugees.
“Sure, skirmishes and then a war can start with Iran, but soon Afghanistan will end up as the terrain for proxy wars with Teheran,” said Farhadi. “Arms and munitions will flow to Afghanistan to fight Iran, but the fighters would be Afghan youth, and the destruction will occur in Afghanistan. Not a good perspective.”
Iran has retained its embassy in Kabul along with nearly two dozen neighboring and regional countries since the Taliban seized power nearly two years ago, but it has not recognized the new Afghan government nor has the world at large.
The Taliban’s restrictions on women’s right to education and work as well as a lack of political inclusivity in their government have deterred the international community from granting them legitimacy.