*Mahmoud Sadri is a professor of sociology and Alireza Ghandriz is a geo-political analyst
A) Preface: Preserving the Environmental Viability of Sistan and Baluchistan Amidst Political Crisis
The foundation of amicable neighborly relations is the convergence of interests and goodwill. However, the significance of pragmatic negotiations, predicated upon economic, political realities, and security considerations (in the Weberian sense of “Realpolitik ”), takes precedence over ceremonial formalities. Regrettably, the above fundamental principles have been ignored in the bilateral relations between Iran and Afghanistan. Intransigence on one side, and shortsightedness on the other, have driven the region toward crisis. Iranian policymakers have, thus far, exhibited an astonishing degree of tolerance towards the provocative rhetoric and audacious posturing of some Afghan leaders. Nevertheless, the acrimonious remarks of the former Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, who publicly advocated for cutting off Iran’s water supply, doling it out drop-by-drop, in exchange for oil remains fresh in Iranian collective memory. The previous Afghani regime’s rigidity over “water geopolitics” may have encouraged the Iranian strategists to countenance the Taliban’s ascendancy since the collapse of the previous government there. Some positive signals sent by Taliban officials concerning Iran’s water rights, strengthened hope for a resolution of the longstanding dispute. However, it now looks like the Taliban leadership has retreated to the previous regime’s position concerning the 1973 treaty. However, they seem to forget that they are skating on thinner ice than their predecessors.
Currently, a dire drought situation strangulates Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan regions in Iran and the Taliban’s obstinacy is heightening the likelihood that Iran would tire of the costly impasse and resort to force in order to release the waters illegally kept behind Kamal Khan, Sohtuk, or even Kajaki dams.
B) Historical Background: Unjust Treaties
History suggests that unjust treaties (Such as the one signed at Versailles in 1919) lead to greater catastrophes . Unfortunately, during the reign of the Pahlavi regime, two such treaties were signed that were contrary to Iran’s national interests and continued to dim the horizons of its prosperity and regional balance of powers. The first is known as“the Saad Abad quadripartite non-aggression pact” with Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iraq during the era of Reza Shah. The second is called “The 1973 Treaty” which was concluded under the second Pahlavi king, Mohammad Reza Shah.
1)The Reign of Reza Shah: Concessions at the Expense of National Interest
The foundation for the “Saadabad Treaty” was laid in six years (1931 to 1937.) Reza Shah celebrated this agreement as an “unparalleled achievement in the Middle East, heralding a new era of global peace.”  The process leading to its signing entailed extensive multilateral negotiations, which resulted in major land and water concessions by Iran to Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iraq in exchange for meager benefits. The main accomplishment Iran boasted about was the achievement of “collective defense” of the named countries in case of external attack and the achievement of “good neighborly relationships.”
Based on the arrangements leading to the Treaty of Saadabad,Turkey secured significant advantages, including strategic positions on Lesser Ararat . Iraq set the Iran-Iraq border along the Iranian coast of the Shatt al-Arab (Arvand) River (contrary to the international norm of defining the deepest point of the river as a border), and Afghanistan gained a strip of Iranian territory. In these respects, the 1937 treaty can only be compared to the Treaty of Turkmenchay (1828), except in Turkmenchay, Iran was the defeated party, and in Saadabad was not.
A compelling argument, however, can be made that the lack of action by the Turks, Afghans, and Iraqis during the subsequent foreign aggression and occupation of Iran by the Allies in the Second World War makes the treaty null and void. However, Reza Shah’s magnanimous surrender of Iranian lands and waters remained a fact on the ground. Nonetheless, after a considerable span of time, the ominous shadow cast by the 1937 treaty and its far-reaching implications concerning the Arvand River was lifted due to the diligent efforts of Iranian diplomats, and military forces during the era of Mohammad Reza Shah.
The reasons behind the foreign policy trajectory of the first Pahlavi king, aimed at reaching alliances at any price, culminated in the Treaty of Saadabad and its supplementary treaties. The question of to what extent this same tendency led to his attraction to the international fascist alliance  and his final demise warrants closer examination, which is not within the purview of this article.
James Rosenauhas offered an adaptive systems models concerning the behavior of nations in the international arena . This model includes variables such as the personality of the top decision-maker, actions of the government, internal societal dynamics, and the dynamics of the international system. Each of these factors exerts a degree of influence on the actions of any given government. It can be asserted that in the case of Iran, the personality of the Pahlavi founder, which quickly evolved in the aftermath of his 1299 coup d’état had a disproportionate effect (compared to the other variables) on the foreign policy of the nation during the volatile years leading to World War II. Of the two objectives of the Constitutional Revolution (1908-8): national sovereignty and national political participation Reza Shah fulfilled the former and trampled the latter. Contrary to the aspirations of Iranian constitutionalism, the Shah emerged as the primary decision-maker, nullifying the checks and balances of the constitutional political system and overshadowing all the other above-mentioned variables in shaping foreign policy outcomes.
Reza Shah, who rose from humble beginnings in the military barracks, possessed a self-made, authoritarian, and ambitious personality driven by the desire to bring about significant changes to his country. With such personal attributes, it is likely that the Pahlavi founder found his ideal model in the resolute character of Kemal Atatürk but ignored the Turkish leader’s devotion to democratic principles. Emulating Atatürk’s personality alone, however, was not sufficient for putting Iran on a similar path of modernization and democratization on a comparable scale. Nevertheless, Reza Shah, captivated by the visible transformation and progress of modern Turkey and pining for the friendship and approval of Atatürk, failed to see him as a leader of a rival nation. The evidence suggests that Reza Khan was resolved to display the utmost kindness and generosity in his friendship with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. 
Hossein Makki, in his “Twenty Years of Iran History,” cites an encounter between Major General Hasan Arfa, a negotiation committee member, during which Arfa presents Reza Shah with his technical maps and strategic objections concerning the disputed areas. However, the Shah responds: “It doesn’t matter who gets this hill or that hill; what matters is that we remain friends.” It is evident that Major General Arfa, like many other members of the Shah’s inner circle, lacked the courage to press his expert opinion. 
Despite these unfortunate instances, a notable and equitable achievement was concluded during the Pahlavi era regarding the Hirmand River, but it was unfortunately squandered during the reign of his son. In 1938, through the efforts of Baqer Kazemi, Iran’s ambassador to Kabul at the time, a bilateral treaty was signed between the kingdoms of Iran and Afghanistan concerning water sharing in the Hirmand River. According to the agreement, both Iran and Afghanistan committed to the annual transfer of an equal amount of water from the River to the Kamal Khan Dam. Intriguingly, Article 8 of the aforementioned contract prohibited Afghanistan from undertaking any operations that would reduce the amount of water flowing from the aforementioned dam toward Iran’s border. This agreement was ratified by Iran’s National Assembly and became an official treaty.
However, in the final years of Reza Shah’s reign, Afghanistan began disregarding its obligations despite signing the agreement while continuing to benefit from Iran’s concessions in the Saadabad Treaty.
2)The Era of Mohammad Reza Shah: Abrogation of the Treaty of 1938 and its Impact on Iran’s National Interests
During the reign of Mohammad Reza Shah, the Pahlavi government prioritized supporting and defending Afghanistan’smonarchy against its internal Marxist rivalsagainst a global cold war backdrop. This approach included a disregard for Afghanistan’s non-compliance with the Treaty of 1938, which had significant ramifications for the future of Sistan and Baluchistan.
Although a few political figures from the eastern region of Iran voiced concerns regarding the illegal construction of water barriers on the Afghan side and its potential consequences for Sistan and Baluchestan’s future, their warnings fell on deaf ears. A notable figure who raised the issue in parliament was Mohammad Ali Mansif, a representative from Birjand and Qaen. In his address to the National Assembly on February 21, 1946, he alerted the members to Afghanistan’s excavation of a new canal approximately fifteen kilometers south of Kashir in the Kandahar province. This canal, spanning over two hundred kilometers with a depth ranging from five to nine meters, and involving a workforce of thirty-six thousand workers, aimed to divert water away from Sistan and Baluchestan. He warned that the completion of this project would mean the ruin of the Sistan and Baluchestan region.
In 1949, Mansour al-SaltanahAdle, Iran’s envoy to the United Nations, lodged a complaint with the Security Council, highlighting the development of water infrastructure that violated the obligations outlined in the treaty of 1938. However, Iran did not pursue the matter with the necessary decisiveness. It can be argued that the topical prominence of the oil issue eclipsed the water issue in Iran. Subsequently, in response to a request from Afghanistan, the U.S. government commissioned an expert group to assess the situation.
Due to the report’s deviation from the obligations outlined in Treaty 1938 and its adverse impact on the livelihood and sustainability of Sistan, Iran did not accept the commission’s proposals but, due to internal turmoil, failed to issue a vociferous objection to the findings of the commission.
Nevertheless, the issue resurfaced when Afghanistan raised the report of the Delta Commission, leading to renewed negotiations between The two countries. Eventually, in 1973, a treaty was signed by Iranian Prime Minister Amir Abbas Hoveyda and the Prime Minister of Afghanistan
Musa Shafiq. Regrettably, this agreement proved detrimental to Iran’s interests and contradicted the terms of the Treaty of 1938. It was yet another concession from Iran. Of course, Mohammad Reza Shah’s intention in granting this concession was to support Mohammad Zahir Shah’s government against his Soviet-style Marxist rivals. Like his father, he told AsadollahAlam, who was grievously critical of the agreement: “We would like our relationships remain amicable.” Alam, who was severely disappointed by his failed attempt to prevent the formation of the treaty, expressed his sentiments in his memoirs. He wrote that the agents of the Pahlavi regime “were afraid of Afghanistan’s leftism; hence they accepted all the conditions.” He recounted that on that fateful night (the night of exchanging covenant documents), he “drank wine and cried.” He prophetically added: “Of course, this betrayal will come to lighten to fifteen years after I am dead.”  Now, long after his death we realize the wisdom of his views on wisdom on the Hirmand water and the future of Sistan.
It is noteworthy that the Shah’s generous gesture did not save Zahir Shah against his rivals. After Davood Khan’s bloodless coup and the subsequent Marxist (Parcham-Khalgh) bloody takeover, Musa Shafiq was summarily executed on the preposterous charge of “selling water to Iran.”
3)The Period of the Islamic Republic: From Prudent Critique to Policy Confusion
Mohammad Javad Zarif, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran, consistently employed diplomatic and legal language to underscore his disagreement with the Afghan government’s assertion that Iran’s water rights have been fulfilled in accordance with the treaty. He asserted that the majority of the water reaching Iran from the Hirmand River consists of seasonal floods that naturally and unpredictably, originate from areas beyond the designated water basins specified in the treaty. Zarif’s statement implicitly reflects the Iranian legal opinion that Afghanistan’s failure to adhere even to the provisions of the Treaty of 1973 is tantamount to the abrogation of the treaty. Also, Iranian legal experts have repeatedly emphasized that Afghanistan’s failure to adhere to even the stipulations of the Treaty of 1973 is tantamount to the nullification of the treaty. The bedrock principle of international law known as pact as unt servanda, (agreement must be kept) upholds the imperative of honoring agreements. Also, Article 60 of the Vienna Convention, establishes that a material breach of a treaty by one party confers upon the other party the right to terminate or suspend the agreement.
Regrettably, under the current Ra’isi administration, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has deviated from the professional and technical precision exemplified by the previous minister, especially during the initial phases of Taliban governance. On multiple occasions, the ministry expressed hope and empathy towards the Taliban’s commitment and the promises made by its officials regarding the Treaty of 1973. Recent reports by non-governmental journalists in the country indicate that Iran’s Foreign Ministry has appeared to be outmaneuvered by Taliban diplomacy. However, due to significant diplomatic and legal shortcomings exhibited by the new foreign policy team, the situation has reached a critical juncture wherein the country’s highest executive official personally issued threats to the Taliban, only to receive a more provocative response from a self-proclaimed Taliban general. Engaging in rhetorical exchanges, however, serves no purpose. Diplomatic channels still remain open.
The Pakistani and Qatari Godfathers of the Taliban possess a profound understanding of the language and dynamics associated with the mullah-led ragtag regime they support. They are well-advised to elucidate the clearly superior power of Iran, as well as the obvious illegitimacy of the Taliban rule in the international arena. The Community of Nations and its individual members unanimously refuse to recognize the self-proclaimed “Islamic Emirate.” Should the current situation persist, it is not unlikely that Iranian security and military strategists would offer a decisive ultimatum to the Taliban: Either amend or abrogate the unjust 1973 agreement or face Iran’s unilateral removal of obstacles over the Hirmand and Harir Rivers, which have severed the lifeline of Sistan and Baluchestan If necessary, Iran may even contemplate challenging the illegitimate existence of the Taliban government and eliminating their brutal ethnic dominance over the entire territory of Afghanistan with the help of that country’s ethnically oppressed minorities and disenfranchised urban middle classes.
C)The Current Situation: The Need for Strong Diplomacy and Wise Authority to Establish Lasting Peace
Water, often referred to as the elixir of power and geopolitical life, plays a strategic role in shaping the present and future of the Middle East, North Africa, and many other regions across the globe . Dams have become the defining markers of “borders,” from the Nile to the Euphrates and the Tigris to the Hirmand. These blue bands have a profound influence on the authority, influence, and survival of nations. The effects of dams and water disputes on international relations can significantly impact environmental sustainability and regional stability. Recent examples of such conflicts include the Turkish dams’ construction process  and the GERD(The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam) crisis , where competing governments leverage water resources to increase their authority or limit their rivals in the regional arena.
Taliban have recently, and probably with the provocation of some of Iran’s regional rivals, have taken an inflexible and hostile stance concerning the legal and fair division of the waters of the Hirmand River. A military confrontation with Iran will, of course, be disastrous for both countries but particularly for Afghanistan’s nascent extremist regime, a country unable to rule all of its territory and cut off from the international community. Iran has had its own problems with its exceptionalist civilizational ambitions that have yielded a bitter harvest of misery for its besieged population. However, regionally, the Islamic Republic has had a reasonable and non-aggressive relationship with its neighbors. The looming ecological and political disaster awaiting its south-Eastern provinces as a result of a blockage of the Hirmand River, however, may change that stance. The over-exploitation of the river upstream has resulted in an ecological crisis in both Iranian and Afghani regions down the river. The drying up of the ecologically (as well as historically and mythologically) significant Hamoun Lake in the last few decades has had a vast effect on the desertification of the environment and loss of wildlife and agriculture in the area spanning both sides of the Iran/Afghanistan border.  Further drought, resulting in mass migrations, will be unbearable to any Iranian government.
Overcoming the challenges imposed by the 1973 agreement and achieving a mutually beneficial understanding between Iran and Afghanistan is crucial for resolving the current impasse. Failure to do so could have devastating consequences for both sides. It is important to approach this issue with diplomatic finesse. Iran can encourage the Taliban government to accept fair water distribution. Resort to violence would be regrettable and deleterious to the bilateral political and cultural relationship, but the Taliban would have a lot more to lose in such a confrontation. They would be wise to tone down their belligerent tone and negotiate in good faith. The first step in this process would be allowing Iranian water experts to verify the amount of water stored and diverted according to the previous treaties.
As Liddell Hart stated: “The goal of war (read: the use of force) should be to achieve a better peace”!  If the baseless insistence of the Taliban and their imaginary and unprofessional estimation of their ability continues, It is not unlikely that the Iranian side will conclude that there is no other way to secure peace with the Afghan nation is to apply force against the Taliban..
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 One of these areas was the “GharaSou” region. Before Reza Shah donated a portion of Iran’s territory (Qarasu) to Atatürk, Turkey did not have a legal land border with the Nakhchivan region. The buffer zone between Nakhchivan and Turkey was officially recognized as part of Iran. However, with this strategic narrowness, Turkey gained proximity to the Azeri areas of the Soviet Union, which later became the Republic of Azerbaijan. Turkey has long considered this region in the Caucasus as a crucial component of its national security policy (as its strategic depth).
Turkey’s motivation in inciting and supporting the Azerbaijani government in their determined battle to fully dominate Nakhchivan, as well as the bloody conflicts with Armenia, can be understood within this geostrategic context. The struggle over the “Zangezur conceptual corridor” can be similarly explained. If Turkey’s aspirations regarding the disputed Zangezur corridor materialized, it would result in a direct connection between Turkey and the Republic of Azerbaijan, thereby disrupting the geographical continuity and legal boundaries between Iran and Armenia. Had the region of Qarasu not been relinquished, none of these disputes would have posed a threat to the national interests and security of Iran today.
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 Hockenos, Paul. “Turkey’s Dam-Building Spree Continues at Steep Ecological Cost.” Yale E360, 2019. Accessed May 29, 2023. https://e360.yale.edu/features/turkeys-dam-building-spree-continues-at-steep-ecological-cost.
 Walsh, D., Sengupta, S., &Boushnak, L. (2020, February 9). For thousands of years, Egypt controlled the Nile. A new dam threatens that. The New York Time: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/02/09/world/africa/nile-river-dam.html
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