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Why the Taliban is Threatening to Conquer Iran
A deadly water dispute that isn’t going away anytime soon.
By Hugh Fitzgerald
How amusing that two fanatical Muslim regimes, in Iran and Afghanistan, are now at one another’s throats. Though Iran is Shi’a and Afghanistan Sunni, this not a sectarian conflict, although the Sunni/Shi’a certainly helps to stoke the antagonism. It is, rather, a conflict over water, specifically over how much water Iran and Afghanistan should be allowed to take from the Helmand River that runs along their common border. The dispute is getting more intense, and now a Taliban leader has publicly threatened that his group stands ready to “conquer” Iran to enforce its own claims to water from the Helmand River. Robert Spencer wrote briefly about the conflict here, and Daniel Greenfield weighed in here. More on this most welcome conflict can be found here: “Taliban claims: ‘We will conquer Iran soon’ amid water dispute,” by Ariella Marsden, Jerusalem Post, May 29, 2023:
The Taliban threatened on Sunday that it could conquer Iran as tensions increase over water disputes between Afghanistan and Iran, leaving at least three people dead.
In a video released by the Taliban, a senior commander in the terrorist organization running Afghanistan warned that the Taliban would fight the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guard “with more passion” than they fought the US forces. He added that the Taliban “will conquer Iran soon if the Taliban’s leaders give the green light.
Don’t dismiss the Taliban threat. When the Americans abandoned Afghanistan, in a rush, they left behind seven billion dollars worth of military equipment — armored vehicles, aircraft, anti-tank missiles, and more — that the Taliban has incorporated into its own forces. The far eastern border of Iran with Afghanistan is long, porous, and lightly guarded. Most Iranian forces are in the western part of the country, where three of the four restive minorities – Azeris, Kurds, and Arabs – live (only the Baluchis are in eastern Iran, on its border with Pakistan). Another reason for Iran’s military forces to be stationed in the country’s west is to guard against potential military strikes by Israel on Iran’s nuclear facilities. So it is entirely possible that the battle-hardened Taliban could grab part of eastern Iran and hold on to it. The Taliban now has 200,000 troops under arms. It may also be able to incorporate into its ranks several hundred thousand troops formerly belonging to the Afghan army, through the simple expedient of offering them salaries. In other words, the Taliban can field a formidable force against Iran, should it choose to do so.
As well as the Taliban commander’s video, another video released by the terrorist organization taunting Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi went viral on social media. In the video a Taliban member fills a single yellow jerrycan with water, sarcastically telling Raisi “Mr. Raisi, take this water barrel and don’t attack, we’re terrified.”
Iranian media has not explained what the clashes are about, claiming only in one report that they were to do with drug trafficking. Iran also claims that the Taliban shot at IRGC officers on the border first. The Taliban, however, claim the opposite.
Iran doesn’t want to alarm its people, so it chooses to blame the latest border clashes on the usual suspects – drug traffickers – rather than on an impending water war with the Taliban.
Other media sources including the Associated Press (AP) and Iran International report that the clashes happened over a water dispute, a report that would explain the Taliban’s video.
Earlier in May, Raisi warned the Taliban not to violate Iran’s rights to the Helmand River which is shared between the two countries.
Iran has been suffering from a multi-year drought, one of the worst in the country’s history. The Islamic Republic is desperate for water. It is maddening to Tehran that the Taliban is not respecting the 1973 treaty which committed Afghanistan to providing a certain amount of water from the Helmand River. For now, the Taliban are only providing four percent of the water that, according to that 1973 treaty, it was obligated to provide Iran.
“I warn the rulers of Afghanistan to immediately give the [Iranian] people their water rights,” he [President Raisi] said. “Take my words seriously now or don’t complain later.”
Tensions surrounding the river have risen steadily over the last two years since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US forces.
A treaty was signed between the two countries in 1973 involving an agreement that Afghanistan had to give Iran a certain amount of water from the river which flows from Afghanistan.
Reports claim, however, that Afghanistan has been violating the treaty with The National reporting that Iran has only been receiving four percent of the water owed. The lack of water is particularly significant to Iran as it faces a long drought – an issue that Afghanistan faces too.
How wonderful it would be for the civilized world if the Taliban and Iran were to come to blows over access to the water from the Helmand River. The Taliban threatens to “conquer Iran,” and while that claim is mere bravado, it might be able to keep large numbers of Iranian troops tied down in eastern Iran. The Taliban not only has more advanced weapons than Iran – the seven billion dollars worth left by the Americans – but its troops are battle-hardened, having been fighting since 2001. The Iranian army, in contradistinction, hasn’t been involved in major fighting since the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, some 35 years ago. Even if the Taliban’s fanatical fighters only conquer Iran’s easter borderlands to a depth of 50-100 miles, that would be enough to deal a grave blow to Iran’s image, one that Tehran cannot endure; it will have to fight hard to push the Taliban entirely out. And in response, the Taliban will fight harder, as they have shown they can. They are even more fanatical fighters than the Iranians, and likely would cut off even the small amount of Helmand River water Afghanistan’s new rulers are now supplying to Iran. That would likely trigger an Iranian incursion into Afghanistan, in an attempt to seize the eastern, Afghan, shore of the Helmand River order to force the Taliban to relinquish more water. And a hot war, without a foreseeable end, would begin, tying down Iranian forces all along the eastern border with Afghanistan.
It’s a consummation devoutly to be wished. Who among us would not want a war that begins as a conflict over water, but then metastasizes, between two brands of Muslim fanatics who will slug it out for a long time. The Western world should draw up a chair and set a spell, as it watches with grim satisfaction the two deplorable Islamic regimes battle it out.