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Editorial: Strengthen water diplomacy!

Afghanistan has many natural resources, especially in terms of water and mines, but they haven’t been tapped effectively so far. Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran have a long history of conflict over scarce water resources – largely over Afghanistan’s infrastructure-building on the Helmand and Kabul rivers despite it’s a legitimate right and immediate domestic need of Afghanistan. Both Pakistan and Iran have tried in one way or another to sabotage Afghan efforts to utilize its own water resources. We have witnessed numerous reports in the past when attempts originating from both Pakistan and Iran have targeted Afghans’ plans to build dams and hydro projects. These countries have also remained a hurdle to the investment of donor countries in Afghanistan’s hydro projects. All of this because they think the development of new hydropower projects inside Afghanistan would decrease the flow of water to them and may threaten their communities. However, they should be convinced otherwise and told that this issue needn’t be problematic but a peace-building one.

This is while President Ashraf Ghani recently said Afghanistan’s neighbors would no longer use the country’s water free of cost and that Kabul would not enter long-term water treaties. Moreover, during his meetings with Parliament members and heads of commissions, he thanked the lawmakers for approving the water management law and urged them to prioritize the allocation of budget for water management. Afghanistan has been only recently making progress with regard to water-management legislation as the Wolesi Jirga approved a draft water management law for better management of water resources and their protection in October this year. Lack of power and this pressing issue have also drawn people’s attention because last week, residents of eastern Kunar province urged the upcoming government to construct electricity dams on the province’s river.

Proper management of water for Afghanistan means its effective spending to meet public needs, ultimately leading to help boost agriculture, industry and economy of the country. But the issues arisen by the neighboring countries make it difficult for us do so. Afghanistan shares 90 percent of its water resources with these neighbors but they don’t compensate us back. Afghanistan has a treaty with Iran, signed in 1973, which stipulates that the country should receive 850 million cubic meters of water annually from the Helmand River basin; however, it has been receiving 70 percent more than the initially agreed-upon amount. It means the neighbors are exploiting our country’s fragile situation because they know Afghanistan is already preoccupied with its internal complications of insurgency and others. However, Ghani’s recent statement is an answer to Afghans call and should be built upon. Afghanistan must convince its neighbors that the management of water resources will not threaten them and that recent developments in this regard shouldn’t be a bone of contention. They should be assured that this action will rather lead to peace-building in the region and only aims to help Afghanistan meet its needs. Therefore, Kabul should improve and strengthen its water diplomacy and statesmanship in order to resolve water-management differences, for this issue is directly related to peace in our country. Thus, the neighboring countries shouldn’t be an obstacle for us to use our resources. Meanwhile, Kabul should strive to convince them in this regard and in turn seek their assistance concerning Afghan peace.

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