Why Iran-Afghanistan tensions have suddenly reached boiling point

Why Iran-Afghanistan tensions have suddenly reached boiling point
Taliban fighters stand guard as Afghan protestors take part in a protest against the alleged published reports of harassment of Afghan refugees in Iran, in front of the Iranian embassy in Kabul on April 11, 2022. (AFP/File)
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Updated 29 May 2023

Why Iran-Afghanistan tensions have suddenly reached boiling point

Why Iran-Afghanistan tensions have suddenly reached boiling point
  • Saturday’s border clash erupted just weeks after Iran warned Taliban not to violate its rights to Helmand River water
  • 'Fragile' Afghanistan may not favor military confrontation, with China also likely to advise de-escalation, say analysts

KABUL: Tensions between Afghanistan and Iran escalated over the weekend after a heavy exchange of gunfire near a border post that killed at least three people and wounded several others. The clash appeared to have its roots in a simmering dispute over the rights of the two neighbors to their shared water resources.

On Sunday, reports indicated that the fighting between the Iranian and Afghan border security forces had eased, with both sides engaging in talks to defuse tensions. Analysts say countries of the region, especially Afghanistan, can ill afford a conflict, which could begin with the kind of gun battle that the Sasuli border post in Iran just witnessed, but end with regional powers picking sides.

The burst of belligerence comes just weeks after Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned the Taliban not to violate Iran’s water rights over their shared Helmand River, as laid out in a bilateral treaty signed in 1973.

The waters of the Helmand, which is over 1,000 kilometers long and flows from Afghanistan into Iran’s arid eastern regions, have been a matter of concern for Tehran because of Kabul’s decision to dam it to generate electricity and irrigate agricultural land.

A Taliban official at the Bakhshabad Dam. (AFP)

Iran has faced increasing water scarcity issues in recent years. The situation prompted protests by farmers in 2021, when an estimated 97 percent of the country was facing some level of drought, according to the Iran Meteorological Organization.

The issue of Helmand water sharing was discussed on May 18 between Amir Khan Muttaqi, Afghanistan’s acting foreign minister, and his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian.

Again on Saturday, Muttaqi met Hassan Kazemi Qom, the Iranian ambassador, in Kabul, to discuss bilateral relations, including water issues.

“The minister of foreign affairs also noted that issues between the two sides can be better resolved through mutual dialog and understanding,” Afghan Foreign Ministry’s deputy spokesman said on Twitter.

Muttaqi had said earlier in the week that the Taliban “remains committed” to the 1973 treaty, while adding that “the prolonged drought in Afghanistan and the region should not be ignored.”

Iranian FM Hossein Amir-Abdollahian during a meeting with his Afghan counterpart Amir Khan Muttaqi. (AFP)

As Afghanistan faces its third year of drought, the country was ranked third on a 2023 emergency watchlist issued by the International Rescue Committee, which highlighted how climate change contributes to and compounds the crisis in the country.

Addressing the residents of Sistan and Baluchestan, Muttaqi said Afghanistan “shares your pain equally.”

In a statement issued on May 22, he said: “I call on the government of Iran not to politicize this vital issue of water. It is optimal for us to resolve such issues through understanding and direct talks instead of making remarks in the media.


• Drought has blighted Iran for 30 years, but has worsened over the past decade.

• Iran Meteorological Organization says 97% of the country faces some level of drought.

• An estimated 79% of Afghan households lack sufficient water for their daily needs.

“During the last two years, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has taken steps to resolve controllable problems; however, the force majeure that exceeds human capacities (due to climate change) must be understood and a solution found accordingly.”

Within days, however, tensions between the two countries over water sharing had reached boiling point. Taliban officials accused Iran of opening fire first on Saturday morning along the border of Afghanistan’s Nimroz province and the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchestan.

A Taliban fighter stands guard at the entrance gate of Afghan-Iran border crossing bridge in Zaranj. (AFP)

“Today, in Nimroz, Iranian border forces fired toward Afghanistan, which was met with a counterreaction,” Abdul Nafi Takor, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said in a statement issued on Saturday night.

He said that the firefight killed two people, one from each country, adding: “The situation is under control now. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan does not condone the clashes.”

Iran, for its part, accused the Taliban of shooting first, with state-run IRNA news agency quoting the country’s deputy police chief, Gen. Qasem Rezaei, as condemning the “unprovoked attack.” IRNA also said Iran inflicted “significant damage and casualties.”

Two Iranian border guards were killed while two civilians were injured in the clash, according to IRNA, which also reported that the situation was under control by Saturday night.

“The Islamic Emirate considers dialog to be a reasonable way for any problem,” Enayatullah Khawarazmi, the Afghan defense ministry spokesman, said in a statement.

“Negative measures and looking for excuses for war are not in the interest of either side.”

The spike in Afghan-Iranian tensions over water rights comes amid accumulating disagreements between the two regimes since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 2021, including previous clashes at their borders and reports of mistreatment of Afghan refugees.

Though Iran does not officially recognize the Taliban administration, it has maintained relations with Afghanistan’s new rulers.

For decades, Iran hosted millions of Afghans fleeing armed conflict in their war-torn country, and the number of Afghans crossing west has increased since 2021.

Almost 600,000 Afghan passport holders live in Iran and about 780,000 are registered as refugees, according to 2022 data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, while 2.1 million Afghans remain undocumented.

A general view of Hamoon wetland. (AFP)

Tensions surrounding refugees threatened to break out into violence several times, including in January this year, when reports of mistreatment widely circulated on social media, prompting Taliban officials to raise their concerns with Tehran over the difficulties faced by Afghan refugees in Iran.

Iranian security forces have “unlawfully killed” at least 11 Afghans, according to a report by the rights monitor Amnesty International published last August, which also documented the forced returns and torture of Afghans.

Even so, as friction between the neighbors flares up, Afghanistan is likely to seek a resolution of the problems through negotiations, according to Geneva-based Afghan analyst Torek Farhadi.

“The Taliban will avoid a standoff with Iran,” he said in a statement shared with Arab News. “Afghanistan is fragile itself after 40 years of war … history has shown Afghanistan is better off solving challenges with neighbors through talks.”

Any conflict between Afghanistan and Iran would have implications for the region, Farhadi said, adding that China’s geopolitical role and relations with the Taliban government may also come into play.

Like Tehran, Beijing too has not officially recognized the Taliban government. However, it has welcomed Taliban representatives and engaged in various talks, while also keeping its embassy open in Kabul.

“China wants a secure Afghanistan in order to have access to Afghan minerals and it also wants access to Iran’s oil and gas through Afghanistan,” Farhadi said.

“China would be unhappy with developments that would compromise the newfound stability in Afghanistan (and) will advise the Taliban not to escalate armed hostilities with Iran.”

Bangladesh opposition boycotts ‘farcical’ polls

Bangladesh opposition boycotts ‘farcical’ polls
Updated 12 sec ago

Bangladesh opposition boycotts ‘farcical’ polls

Bangladesh opposition boycotts ‘farcical’ polls

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s main opposition officially boycotted upcoming general elections on Thursday, removing the only party that could have offered a realistic challenge to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s fourth consecutive term in power.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, warning that thousands of its members had been arrested in a sweeping crackdown, said it had not applied to contest a single seat on the last day of filing candidate nominations before the Jan. 7 polls.

“We are boycotting the election,” A.K.M Wahiduzzaman, a spokesman of the party, said.

“We remained steadfast to our stand that we will not take part in any election with Sheikh Hasina in power.”

The BNP and other parties have held mass protests calling on Hasina to quit power and let a neutral government run the polls, demands the government has said are unconstitutional.

Human Rights Watch warned Monday of a “violent autocratic crackdown,” with almost 10,000 opposition activists arrested and at least 16 people killed since protests escalated in October, including two police officers.

Wahiduzzaman, accusing Hasina of having “rigged the previous two elections,” said the number arrested was even higher.

“She has arrested more than 18,090 of our leaders and supporters in an unprecedented crackdown since late Oct. 28 to rig another election,” he said.

“We won’t join any farcical election.”

Hasina has overseen massive economic growth during her 15 years in power, but there has been international alarm over democratic backsliding and thousands of extrajudicial killings.

Other key opposition parties have also said they will boycott the elections, including the Jamaat-e-Islami, the country’s largest Islamist party, and the Islami Andolon Bangladesh.

Election Commission spokesman Shariful Alam said they would confirm who was participating later.

Apart from the ruling Awami League, several smaller allied parties have said they will take part. Some BNP officials are understood to have left the party hoping to contest a seat as independents.

Human Rights Watch has accused the government of targeting opposition leaders and supporters.

“The government is claiming to commit to free and fair elections with diplomatic partners while the state authorities are simultaneously filling prisons with the ruling Awami League’s political opponents,” said Julia Bleckner, senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Global leaders pay tribute to Henry Kissinger

Global leaders pay tribute to Henry Kissinger
Updated 1 min 56 sec ago

Global leaders pay tribute to Henry Kissinger

Global leaders pay tribute to Henry Kissinger
  • But on social media, former US secretary of state is widely called a war criminal who left lasting damage throughout the world

TOKYO: Global leaders paid tribute to former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on Thursday, but there was also sharp criticism of the man who remained an influential figure decades after his official service as one of the most powerful diplomats in American history.

Kissinger, who died on  Wednesday at 100, drew praise as a skilled defender of US interests. On social media, though, he was widely called a war criminal who left lasting damage throughout the world.

“America has lost one of the most dependable and distinctive voices” on foreign affairs, said former President George W. Bush, striking a tone shared by many high-level officials past and present.

“I have long admired the man who fled the Nazis as a young boy from a Jewish family, then fought them in the United States Army,” Bush said in a statement. “When he later became Secretary of State, his appointment as a former refugee said as much about his greatness as it did America’s greatness.”

Kissinger served two presidents, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, and dominated foreign policy as the United States withdrew from Vietnam and established ties with China.

Criticism of Kissinger, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in negotiating a ceasefire in Vietnam in 1973, was especially strong on social media, where many posted celebratory videos in reaction to his death.

A Rolling Stone magazine headline said, “Henry Kissinger, war criminal beloved by America’s ruling class, finally dies.”

Across South America, Kissinger is remembered as a key figure that helped prop up bloody military dictatorships, claiming they would put the brakes on socialism in the region. 

Documents have shown Kissinger’s and Nixon’s support for the 1973 coup that deposed Chile’s president. Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship went on to violate human rights, murder opponents, cancel elections, restrict the media, suppress labor unions and disband political parties.

“A man has died whose historical brilliance never managed to conceal his profound moral misery,” Chile’s Ambassador to the United States, Juan Gabriel Valdes, wrote on X. Chile’s leftist President Gabriel Boric retweeted the message.

The head of the independent Documentation Center of Cambodia, Youk Chhang, described Kissinger’s legacy as “controversial” though not widely debated in the country. Well over half of the population was born after the Khmer Rouge were ousted in 1979, and even those who lived through the civil war and the group’s brutal rule recall the US involvement and its B-52 bombers, “but not Henry Kissinger,” he said.

“Henry Kissinger’s bombing campaign likely killed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians — and set (a) path for the ravages of the Khmer Rouge,” Sophal Ear, a scholar at Arizona State University who studies Cambodia’s political economy, wrote on The Conversation.

Nixon’s daughters, Tricia Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower, said their father and Kissinger enjoyed “a partnership that produced a generation of peace for our nation.”

Russian missile strikes kill two, wound 10 in east Ukraine, Kyiv says

Russian missile strikes kill two, wound 10 in east Ukraine, Kyiv says
Updated 30 November 2023

Russian missile strikes kill two, wound 10 in east Ukraine, Kyiv says

Russian missile strikes kill two, wound 10 in east Ukraine, Kyiv says
  • In the afternoon, rescuers had retrieved a second body from the debris
  • Police said on Telegram that a 33-year-old woman, a 38-year-old man and an eight-year-old girl could still be under the rubble

KYIV: Two people were killed, 10 were wounded and a family of three were believed to be still trapped under rubble following overnight Russian missile attacks in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, Ukrainian officials said on Thursday.
Earlier, officials had said one person was killed after six missiles struck the three settlements of Pokrovsk, Novohrodivka and Myrnohrad. In the afternoon, rescuers had retrieved a second body from the debris, according to Ukrainian police.
Police said on Telegram that a 33-year-old woman, a 38-year-old man and an eight-year-old girl could still be under the rubble of a residential building in Novohrodivka. Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said earlier 10 people, including four children, were wounded. Nine private houses, a police station, cars, and garages were damaged, he added.
Reuters could not independently verify the details.
Invading Russian forces have occupied much of Donetsk and Russia has said it intends to take over the whole region. Moscow has denied deliberately targeting civilians although many have been killed in frequent Russian air strikes.
The Ukrainian military said earlier on Thursday its air defense shot down 14 out of 20 drones in a Russian overnight strike.

Thousands of fake Facebook accounts shut down by Meta were primed to polarize voters ahead of 2024

Thousands of fake Facebook accounts shut down by Meta were primed to polarize voters ahead of 2024
Updated 30 November 2023

Thousands of fake Facebook accounts shut down by Meta were primed to polarize voters ahead of 2024

Thousands of fake Facebook accounts shut down by Meta were primed to polarize voters ahead of 2024
  • The network of nearly 4,800 fake accounts hints at serious threats posed by online disinformation 
  • National elections will occur in the US, Pakistan, India, Ukraine, Taiwan and other nations next year 

WASHINGTON: Someone in China created thousands of fake social media accounts designed to appear to be from Americans and used them to spread polarizing political content in an apparent effort to divide the US ahead of next year’s elections, Meta said Thursday. 

The network of nearly 4,800 fake accounts was attempting to build an audience when it was identified and eliminated by the tech company, which owns Facebook and Instagram. The accounts sported fake photos, names and locations as a way to appear like everyday American Facebook users weighing in on political issues. 

Instead of spreading fake content as other networks have done, the accounts were used to reshare posts from X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that were created by politicians, news outlets and others. The interconnected accounts pulled content from both liberal and conservative sources, an indication that its goal was not to support one side or the other but to exaggerate partisan divisions and further inflame polarization. 

The newly identified network shows how America’s foreign adversaries exploit US-based tech platforms to sow discord and distrust, and it hints at the serious threats posed by online disinformation next year, when national elections will occur in the US, India, Mexico, Ukraine, Pakistan, Taiwan and other nations. 

“These networks still struggle to build audiences, but they’re a warning,” said Ben Nimmo, who leads investigations into inauthentic behavior on Meta’s platforms. “Foreign threat actors are attempting to reach people across the Internet ahead of next year’s elections, and we need to remain alert.” 

Meta Platforms Inc., based in Menlo Park, California, did not publicly link the Chinese network to the Chinese government, but it did determine the network originated in that country. The content spread by the accounts broadly complements other Chinese government propaganda and disinformation that has sought to inflate partisan and ideological divisions within the US 

To appear more like normal Facebook accounts, the network would sometimes post about fashion or pets. Earlier this year, some of the accounts abruptly replaced their American-sounding user names and profile pictures with new ones suggesting they lived in India. The accounts then began spreading pro-Chinese content about Tibet and India, reflecting how fake networks can be redirected to focus on new targets. 

Meta often points to its efforts to shut down fake social media networks as evidence of its commitment to protecting election integrity and democracy. But critics say the platform’s focus on fake accounts distracts from its failure to address its responsibility for the misinformation already on its site that has contributed to polarization and distrust. 

For instance, Meta will accept paid advertisements on its site to claim the US election in 2020 was rigged or stolen, amplifying the lies of former President Donald Trump and other Republicans whose claims about election irregularities have been repeatedly debunked. Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general have said there is no credible evidence that the presidential election, which Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden, was tainted. 

When asked about its ad policy, the company said it is focusing on future elections, not ones from the past, and will reject ads that cast unfounded doubt on upcoming contests. 

And while Meta has announced a new artificial intelligence policy that will require political ads to bear a disclaimer if they contain AI-generated content, the company has allowed other altered videos that were created using more conventional programs to remain on its platform, including a digitally edited video of Biden that claims he is a pedophile. 

“This is a company that cannot be taken seriously and that cannot be trusted,” said Zamaan Qureshi, a policy adviser at the Real Facebook Oversight Board, an organization of civil rights leaders and tech experts who have been critical of Meta’s approach to disinformation and hate speech. “Watch what Meta does, not what they say.” 

Meta executives discussed the network’s activities during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, the day after the tech giant announced its policies for the upcoming election year — most of which were put in place for prior elections. 

But 2024 poses new challenges, according to experts who study the link between social media and disinformation. Not only will many large countries hold national elections, but the emergence of sophisticated AI programs means it’s easier than ever to create lifelike audio and video that could mislead voters. 

“Platforms still are not taking their role in the public sphere seriously,” said Jennifer Stromer-Galley, a Syracuse University professor who studies digital media. 

Stromer-Galley called Meta’s election plans “modest” but noted it stands in stark contrast to the “Wild West” of X. Since buying the X platform, then called Twitter, Elon Musk has eliminated teams focused on content moderation, welcomed back many users previously banned for hate speech and used the site to spread conspiracy theories. 

Democrats and Republicans have called for laws addressing algorithmic recommendations, misinformation, deepfakes and hate speech, but there’s little chance of any significant regulations passing ahead of the 2024 election. That means it will fall to the platforms to voluntarily police themselves. 

Meta’s efforts to protect the election so far are “a horrible preview of what we can expect in 2024,” according to Kyle Morse, deputy executive director of the Tech Oversight Project, a nonprofit that supports new federal regulations for social media. “Congress and the administration need to act now to ensure that Meta, TikTok, Google, X, Rumble and other social media platforms are not actively aiding and abetting foreign and domestic actors who are openly undermining our democracy.” 

Many of the fake accounts identified by Meta this week also had nearly identical accounts on X, where some of them regularly retweeted Musk’s posts. 

Those accounts remain active on X. A message seeking comment from the platform was not returned. 

Meta also released a report Wednesday evaluating the risk that foreign adversaries including Iran, China and Russia would use social media to interfere in elections. The report noted that Russia’s recent disinformation efforts have focused not on the US but on its war against Ukraine, using state media propaganda and misinformation in an effort to undermine support for the invaded nation. 

Nimmo, Meta’s chief investigator, said turning opinion against Ukraine will likely be the focus of any disinformation Russia seeks to inject into America’s political debate ahead of next year’s election. 

“This is important ahead of 2024,” Nimmo said. “As the war continues, we should especially expect to see Russian attempts to target election-related debates and candidates that focus on support for Ukraine.” 

Russia’s Lavrov faces Western critics at security meeting, walks out after speech

Russia’s Lavrov faces Western critics at security meeting, walks out after speech
Updated 30 November 2023

Russia’s Lavrov faces Western critics at security meeting, walks out after speech

Russia’s Lavrov faces Western critics at security meeting, walks out after speech
  • The Russian foreign minister spoke for 15 minutes before walking out of the meetings
  • “The very existence of Russians and their decisive contribution to the history of Ukraine are denied,” Lavrov said

SKOPJE: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov faced Western critics while attending international security talks Thursday in Northern Macedonia, where he blamed “NATO’s reckless expansion to the East” for war returning to Europe.
Lavrov arrived in Skopje to attend meetings hosted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The diplomats of several OSCE member nations, including Ukraine, boycotted the event due to Lavrov’s planned attendance amid Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The Russian foreign minister spoke for 15 minutes before walking out of the meetings. He blamed what he described as Western tolerance of the “ruling neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv” for the war that started with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
“The very existence of Russians and their decisive contribution to the history of Ukraine are denied,” Lavrov said. “There are plenty of facts. The OSCE and its relevant institutions are silent.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly alleged that Ukraine’s government is made up of “neo-Nazis,” even though the country has a democratically elected Jewish president who lost relatives in the Holocaust.
Putin and other Russian officials have invoked the Holocaust, World War II and Nazism to legitimize the invasion of Ukraine. Historians see their rhetoric as disinformation and a cynical ploy.
Western ministers attending the OSCE meeting were sharply critical of Lavrov after he spoke.
“Russia’s attempts to blame others for its own choices are transparent,” said Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, who was speaking when Lavrov walked out.
“We will not compromise on the core principles of the European security order or allow Russia to deny Ukraine the right to make its own independent foreign and security policy choices – principles that Russia itself has agreed to,” he continued.
Based in Vienna, Austria, the OSCE is an intergovernmental organization focused on promoting security, stability, and cooperation among its participating states.
NATO member North Macedonia lifted a ban on Russian flights to enable Lavrov to attend the meeting. Russian state news agency Tass reported that the minister flew a longer route over Turkiye and Greece to reach the summit after Bulgaria blocked his plane from using its airspace.
Greek officials did not immediately return a request for comment.
The foreign ministers of Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had said they would not attend the talks due to Lavrov’s participation.
The Russian minister arrived in Skopje hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a brief stop in North Macedonia’s capital late Wednesday.