The Iranian flag is seen flying over a street in Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2023. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

Tensions between the Taliban and Iran escalated dramatically as both sides exchanged heavy gunfire on the shared border between Afghanistan and Iran. The clash, which took place near the Kang district of Nimroz and Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan provinces, was reportedly triggered by a dispute over water rights.

While Iranian sources claimed that the Taliban initiated the attack, the Taliban-controlled media in Afghanistan remained silent on the matter. Videos and eyewitness accounts indicated the use of heavy weapons and mortars during the confrontation. Iran’s border forces vowed a resolute response to any further aggression and called for accountability from the Afghan authorities.

On Saturday morning, the border region between Afghanistan’s Nimroz province and Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan provinces became the site of intense gunfire as the Taliban and Iranian forces clashed. The confrontation, allegedly provoked by a disagreement over water rights, marked a significant escalation in tensions between the two nations.

According to Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency, General Qassem Rezaei, Iran’s deputy police chief, accused the Taliban of initiating the attack. The exchange of fire reportedly resulted in heavy casualties and significant damage, as stated by IRNA. Notably, Afghanistan’s Taliban-controlled media did not mention the violent clash.

HalVash, an advocacy group focusing on issues concerning the Baluch people residing in the Sunni-majority Sistan and Baluchestan province, reported on the incident. Residents in the area near the Kang district of Nimroz claimed that the fighting had taken place. Some individuals had reportedly fled the area to avoid the violence.

Videos circulating online claimed to be from the conflict zone, depicted the distant sound of machine gun fire. HalVash also shared an image allegedly showing the remains of a mortar round, indicating the use of heavy weapons during the clash. Subsequently, a video emerged from HalVash, purporting to show Iranian forces firing a mortar.

In response to the attack, Iran’s police chief, General Ahmadreza Radan, emphasized that Iran’s border forces would deliver a decisive response to any further aggression or border trespassing. He further asserted that the current Afghan authorities should be held accountable for their actions, which he deemed as contradictory to international principles, as quoted by IRNA.

The violent exchange of gunfire between the Taliban and Iran on the Afghan-Iran border highlights the deepening tensions between the two nations. As the dispute over water rights exacerbates this fragile situation, the international community closely watches for further developments and the potential impact on regional stability.

The recent clash between the Taliban and Iran along the Afghan-Iran border is rooted in an ongoing dispute over water rights, which has exacerbated tensions between the two parties. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had previously issued a stern warning to the Taliban, cautioning against any violation of Iran’s water rights to the Helmand River.

Raisi’s remarks underscored the gravity of the water crisis in Iran, which has worsened over the past decade, leading to widespread drought conditions affecting approximately 97 percent of the country, as reported by the Iran Meteorological Organization and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

The Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan in August 2021, coinciding with the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops after two decades of war, has further complicated the regional dynamics. Unfortunately, Afghanistan has regressed into one of the world’s most repressive nations for women and girls, with their basic rights significantly curtailed, as highlighted by the United Nations. Additionally, hunger remains a pressing issue in the country.

While Iran has not explicitly recognized the Taliban government, it has maintained diplomatic ties with the new rulers. Tehran has also urged the Taliban to ensure access to education for women and girls. Earlier on the day of the clash, the Taliban’s Acting Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, met with an Iranian envoy to Afghanistan to discuss the water rights of the Helmand River, signaling a willingness to engage in dialogue, as conveyed by Afghan Foreign Ministry official Zia Ahmad’s tweets.

The Iranian state-run news agency, IRNA, acknowledged the meeting and expressed its belief that issues between the two nations can be better resolved through diplomatic means.

However, tensions have been mounting, as evidenced by recent events. A video circulated online depicted a standoff between Iranian forces and the Taliban, with Iranian construction workers attempting to fortify the border between the two countries.

Furthermore, pro-Taliban online accounts have been sharing a video featuring a song urging the acting defense minister, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, to confront Iran. Mullah Yaqoob, the son of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the late founder and first supreme leader of the Taliban, is seen as a symbol of resistance against Iran in the song.

The clash on the Afghan-Iran border serves as a stark reminder of the complexities surrounding water rights and the delicate diplomatic balance in the region. As tensions continue to rise, it becomes increasingly vital for both sides to engage in constructive dialogue and seek peaceful resolutions to prevent further escalation and mitigate the impact on regional stability.