In major escalation of tensions over the use of water, the Iranian personnel and Taliban fighters clashed on Saturday in the border areas.
Reports say that heavy firing took place between Taliban fighters and Iranian personnel on the border of Iran's Sistan and Baluchestan province and the Afghan province of Nimroz on Saturday. Reports also say that mortars are likely to have been used in the fighting.
Amid escalating tensions, Iran’s Border Guard and the Taliban exchanged heavy gunfire on Saturday on the Islamic Republic's border with Afghanistan. Iran says its forces inflicted “heavy casualties and serious damage”. pic.twitter.com/zdAI1v0FDD— Iran International English (@IranIntl_En) May 27, 2023
While Iran's state-run media quoted senior officials as saying that Taliban started the clashes, the Taliban has so far not ackowledged the clashes.
The clash is understood to be related to rights over the usage of waters of Helmand River. It comes amid worsening drought conditions in Iran.
What we know of the clashes?
The Taliban and Iran exchanged heavy gunfire on Saturday on the Islamic Republic's border with Afghanistan, sharply escalating rising tensions between the two nations amid a dispute over water rights.
Iran's state-run IRNA news agency quoted the country's deputy police chief, Gen. Qassem Rezaei, accusing the Taliban of opening fire first Saturday morning on the border of Iran's Sistan and Baluchestan province and the Afghan province of Nimroz. IRNA said Iran inflicted “heavy casualties and serious damage."
Taliban-controlled media in Afghanistan did not acknowledge the fighting.
The advocacy group HalVash, which reports on issues affecting the Baluch people in the predominately Sunni province of Sistan and Baluchestan, quoted residents in the area saying the fighting took place near the Kang district of Nimroz. It said some people in the area had fled the violence.
Videos posted online, purportedly from the area, included the crackle of machine gun fire in the distance. HalVash later posted an image of what appeared to be the remains of a mortar round, saying that "heavy weapons and mortars are being used".
A later video from HalVash purported to show Iranian forces firing a mortar.
"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," IRNA quoted Iran's police chief, Gen. Ahmadreza Radan, as saying.
Clash related to water rights
The clash comes as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi earlier this month warned the Taliban not to violate Iran's water rights to the Helmand River. Raisi's remarks represented some of the strongest yet over the long-running concerns about water in Iran.
Drought has been a problem in Iran for some 30 years, but has worsened over the past decade, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.
The Iran Meteorological Organisation says that an estimated 97 per cent of the country now faces some level of drought.
The Taliban seized Afghanistan in August 2021 as US and NATO troops were in the final weeks of their pullout from the country after 20 years of war. In the time since, Afghanistan has become the most repressive in the world for women and girls, depriving them of virtually all their basic rights, according to the UN Hunger remains endemic.
While not directly accepting the Taliban government, Iran has maintained relations with Afghanistan's new rulers. Tehran also has called on the Taliban to allow women and girls to go to school.
Earlier on Saturday, the Taliban's Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi met with an Iranian envoy to Afghanistan to discuss the Helmand River water rights, according to tweets from Afghan Foreign Ministry official Zia Ahmad. IRNA acknowledged the meeting, saying "that issues between the two countries will be better resolved through dialogue".
But tensions have otherwise been rising. Another video posted online in recent days purportedly showed a standoff with Iranian forces and the Taliban as Iranian construction workers tried to reinforce the border between the two countries.
In recent days, pro-Taliban accounts online also have been sharing a video with a song calling on the acting defence minister, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, to stand up to Iran. Mullah Yaqoob is the son of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban's late founder and first supreme leader.
"We are a government, we have power," the song goes. "Our leader Mullah Yaqoob will stand against Iran or we are not the republic's government. We are not slaves, our leader Mullah Yaqoob will stand against Iran."
(With AP inputs)