Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once said of the Iran-Iraq War that “it’s a pity both sides can’t lose.” It is likely that U.S. officials share a similar sentiment today: Iran and the Afghanistan’s Taliban government look like they might be headed toward a full-blown war after the two sides engaged in border clashes last weekend.
At least three were killed, including two Iranian border guards and one Taliban fighter, during an exchange of heavy gunfire that broke out near a border post. The deaths were confirmed by the Taliban as well as by Iranian state media on Saturday.
An additional number on each side might have been wounded in the fighting.
Iran and the Taliban were past enemies, even though neither regime has much love for the United States or the liberal international order.
Each Side Is Pointing Fingers
The Islamic Republic’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted Gen. Qaseem Rezaei, who accused the Taliban of taking the first shots on Saturday morning at the border between Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province and the Afghan province of Nimroz. Tehran claimed it inflicted “heavy casualties and serious damage.”
An Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman offered a conflicting view and accused Iran of shooting first. He said the brief firefight killed two people, one from each country, and wounded others. He said the situation now is under control, the Associated Press reported.
Water, Water, Not Everywhere
Though it is unclear what provoked this past weekend’s incident, it came amid tensions between the nations over water rights. Tehran has recently accused the Taliban of violating a 1973 treaty that restricted the flow of water from the Helmand River to Iran’s parched eastern regions. The Taliban has sought to dam the Helmand, which flows from Afghanistan into some of the driest regions of Iran.
Earlier this year, Iran claimed it has only received around 4% of the water it is owed.
Water shortages have been a severe issue for the Islamic Republic in recent years. Tehran has literally been sinking due to a depleted water table. Over-extraction of groundwater is one problem, and it has been made worse by a number of dry summers, causing the soil to shift and settle.
Afghanistan is also facing a third year of drought. The country ranked third on the 2023 emergency watchlist issued by the International Rescue Committee, which has highlighted how climate change is already contributing to and compounding the water crisis in the Central Asian nation.
It remains uncertain that calmer minds could halt a slide into conflict.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers dialogue to be a reasonable way for any problem,” an Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman said in a statement. “Making excuses for war and negative actions is not in the interest of any of the parties.”
However, Iran may be ready to take its response further.
“The border forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran will decisively respond to any border trespassing and aggression, and the current authorities of Afghanistan must be held accountable for their unmeasured and contrary actions to international principles,” Iran’s police chief, Gen. Ahmadreza Radan, said, IRNA reported.
Water rights and usage are among several issues that could lead to armed conflict between Iran and Afghanistan. The world will be watching how each regime responds.
Author Experience and Expertise:
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.