The HRC and anarchy in light of features of survival, relative gains, and uncertainty

It should be noted at the outset of this section that water diplomacy within the HRB cannot be fully understood without considering the broader turbulent geopolitical context. The relationship between major political milestones in the region and the adoption and evolution of cooperative arrangements concerning the HRB, while meriting further analysis, is outlined in Figure 10.2 below.33

Rarely has a river experienced such long wars, military invasions, and political swings as the Helmand. A recent UN report describes the political situation of Afghanistan as an “eroding stalemate.”34 The US intervention, now in its nineteenth year, also remains stuck in “strategic limbo.”35 Analysts describe the complex politics of Afghanistan as a country where “state collapse, civil conflict, ethnic disintegration and multisided intervention has locked it in a self-perpetuating cycle that may be simply beyond outside resolution.”36 Thus, the situation in Afghanistan, in which most of the HRB is located, is reflected in the separation, contention, and fragmentation of authority and power either of the international community or national government. Authority belongs to whoever wins the latest battle. And conflict has deep social and political roots. The national authority has limited control over both the behavior of insiders and outsiders.37 Despite international efforts to bring peace and stability to the country, chaos and anarchy remain prevalent in Afghanistan, a state “where outsiders come and go without any records kept.”38 This anarchic nature of the political setting in Afghanistan, it is argued, undermines water diplomacy in the HRB, and influences the behavior of both riparian states.

Like Afghanistan, known as a buffer state between superpowers, Iran, as a regional power in the Middle East, has also experienced severe pressure from outsiders, particularly the United States. The Anglo-American coup in 1953 against a new democratic government, supporting Iraq's 1979 invasion, and imposing economic sanctions during and after the negotiations on a nuclear deal, are just a few examples of the attempts of superpowers to assert their influence over Iran. In this respect, the former US National Security Council officials

Timeline of developments in the Helmand River Basin

Figure 10.2 Timeline of developments in the Helmand River Basin.

Source: own compilation based on Pirous Mojtahed-Zadeh, “Lake Hamun, a Disaster in the Making: Hydropolitics of Hirmand and Hamun,” United Nations Environment Programme, 1995, asp; Vincent Thomas and Manijeh Mahmoudzadeh Varzi, “A Legal Licence for an Ecological Disaster: The Inadequacies of the 1973 Hel-mand/Hirmand Water Treaty for Sustainable Transboundary Water Resources Development,” International Journal of Water Resources Development 31, no. 4 (2015): 499 518; Iran Press, “Iran, Afghanistan to Finalize a Comprehensive Cooperation Document,” 6 January 2019,; Fars News Agency, "Tehran, Kabul to Expand Energy, Water Cooperation,” 7 January 2019, http://; Michael H. Fuchs, “It’s Time to End America’s War in Afghanistan," Guardian, 19 August 2018,

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett highlight that, “[hegemonic strategies...are inherently expansionist: a state uses military, political, and economic power not just to defend its interests but to bend others into accommodating them.”39

Notwithstanding these influences, Iran shares several key objectives toward Afghanistan with the UN, such as: supporting the peacebuilding process; reconstruction and development; sanctioning the opium trade; and hosting refugees from Afghanistan, which has the second largest refugee population in the world.40 This becomes more significant when considering that poor water management and noncooperative water development in the Helmand Basin worsen violence, and increase opium cultivation and migration in Afghanistan—factors that all have a negative impact on not only neighboring countries but also Western countries.

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