Residents and civil society activists staged a protest Friday in southern Afghanistan to denounce neighboring Iran's President Hassan Rouhani for criticizing Afghan water management and dam projects.
Hundreds of demonstrators peacefully marched through the streets of Lashkargah, capital of Helmand province near the Iranian border. They chanted, “Death to Hassan Rouhani” and “Death to enemies of Afghanistan.”
The protesters called on President Ashraf Ghani’s government to not be deterred by the Iranian warning and to implement water management and storage projects along Afghan rivers.
At an international conference on sandstorms and environmental issues in Tehran on Monday, the Iranian leader warned that construction of several dams in Afghanistan could destroy “civilizations” in Iranian border provinces, forcing people to abandon their homes.
“We cannot remain indifferent to the issue, which is apparently damaging our environment,” the Iranian leader said before an audience that included Afghan delegates.
Rouhani was referring to Afghan dams such as Kajaki, Kamal Khan, Bakhshabad and Salma in provinces that border Iran.
Afghan politicians also have been criticizing the Iranian president for his comments, which they say amount to direct interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan.
Afghan media have also expressed outrage through special commentaries and editorials.
“We can continue living brotherly, but the use of the things that belong to us is our immediate right. We need our waters; we need electricity, irrigation and greenery. Thus, we should be the first ones that use our rivers,” English daily Afghanistan Times wrote in an editorial published Friday.
The paper went on to say that 80 percent of Afghan water flowed to Iran and neighboring Pakistan without being used inside Afghanistan.
Tehran has not commented on the criticism Rouhani's comments provoked in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan and Iran signed a water-sharing treaty in 1973, stipulating that Iran not make claims to water from the Helmand River in excess of the amount agreed upon in the treaty, “even if additional water” becomes available in the future.
President Ghani has recently noted that Iran continues to receive its fair share of water from the river and that the country cannot claim more than what has been agreed upon.
“We want domestic production...We will manage our water and control it,” Ghani said.
After assuming office in 2014, the Afghan president vowed to construct 21 new dams, calling them key to efforts to boost the troubled economy and produce jobs for unemployed youth.
The controversy over the construction of new dams comes as Kabul accuses Iran of increasing contacts with the Taliban fighting the Afghan government and international forces.
Provincial officials and politicians have alleged that Iranian security forces are arming and providing medical assistance to insurgents, allegations Tehran denies.
Afghan officials say Iran wants to bolster the Taliban to prevent Islamic State militants from threatening Iranian territory.