In the last five decades, Afghanistan has been almost entirely affected by its neighbours in any possible form, ranging from military and political problems to direct mortar attacks taking numerous civilian lives.
Out of the 6 neighbouring countries with whom Afghanistan borders, Pakistan and Iran has caused the hugest problems and the most severe headaches for the Afghan government in last half a century, significantly in East of Afghanistan – allegedly by the Pakistan military.
Although the government of Pakistan and the military officials have repeatedly denied the fact that they’re not behind the unrest and insurgency in the border lines, the Afghan government authorities emphasise that the wave of unrest in the border is mostly controlled from inside Pakistan – alleging the Pakistani officials turn a blind eye on the issue.
The Afghan and International media have mostly concentrated on the incidents and activities alongside the Afghan-Pakistan border, having ignored what’s happening in the west of country on border lines with Iran. In western region, Afghanistan’s Herat, Nimruz and Farah provinces share 936 Kilometers border with Iran’s eastern provinces of Sistan Baluchistan and Mashhad.
There have been several border skirmishes that have taken place between Afghan and Iranian Security Forces between 2008 and 2011.
Ranging from direct mortar attacks on Afghanistan’s soil, the conflicts go as far as when a group of Iranian military servicemen in Southwestern Nimruz province in 2007 sailed into the multiparty river on a boat and beat up the Afghans working and swimming in the river.
An Afghan Police officer – Haji Jalil - who is just appointed as head of the border post, walks down the river, gets verbal with the Iranian soldiers and beats three of them alone.
Haji Jalil handcuffed the commander of the team who was said to be a high ranking officer and detained him at the Police headquarters in Zaranj city. The incident remained hidden from the media’s eye – or the government did not want to expose it. After a few days, the police commander was released at the order of a top official and Haji Jalil was fired from his post.
Afghan officials are also widely accused of having ties with Iran to an extent where their families are located inside Iran while they work for the Afghan government in a top position.
This issue has raised a lot of controversial questions over Afghan officials having links with the Iranian government. Not alone in western Afghanistan, but in the East officials are accused of being linked with the Pakistani government.
The Afghan government has repeatedly denied this.
A number of incidents occur at the border and the motives remain unknown to both officials and the people. For instance, a few cases of shooting at the civilians while crossing into Afghanistan from Iran have occurred in Nimruz. Afghan refugees who willingly repatriate to their homeland were at times shot at when crossing into Zaranj city through Abrisham Border Bridge legally.
In a recent case in early 2011, a widower was shot dead from behind by Iranian border soldiers and died on the spot. She had a teenage boy who was then handed over to a juvenile center in Nimruz. The motive behind this action has remained mysterious.
‘The controversial dam’
The spark plug of the conflicts led by Iran at the border with Nimruz province is believed to be the inactivate Kamal Khan Dam which its reconstruction is regularly disrupted by Iranians in an indirect way. Kamal Khan Dam, if activated will stop the Helmand river water to flow to Iran and divert it to Nimruz to be used for irrigation purposes.
Helmand river waters fall into Sistan Lake in Kang district of Nimruz where it’s absorbed into Iranian soil and used for irrigation and (after filtering) for home use.
Unknown gunmen – believed to be instructed by Iranian officials - have attacked the dam’s reconstruction location several times causing casualties to the engineering personnel.
In 2011, a Taliban commander was captured in Farah province by Afghan Forces who then confessed that he was trained in Iran to fire rockets and plant mines on Kamal Khan Dam – in order to disrupt the reconstruction process. Mullah Dadullah confessed that he “was trained in Iran for three months. Our trainers were a mix of Pakistanis, Iranians, and Arabs”.
“I was trained in setting up remote-controlled mines and planting antitank mines. Even developed countries would have been unable to discover the mines I planted.”
Currently the reconstruction of the dam is undertaken by Tajik engineers where a strong police post is deployed to secure the site.
In January 2012, a top police official in Nimruz told me that they have solid intelligence reports on a local militia is tasked from Iran to attack the dam site whenever possible for him.
Maalim (Teacher in Farsi) Kareem was earlier jailed in Nimruz central prison on charges of espionage for Iranian government military for two years after being recognised guilty by a court.
Police sources told me that Kareem, currently living in Chaharburjak district, owns weapons and a number of men and is strongly supported by Iranians, and he fears that ‘lest this bastard do something crazy in that area’. He is under covert police surveillance now.
In November 2011, Iran claimed that a village located in Kang district in Nimruz belongs to them and Afghanistan has taken it during the critical floods in 90s.
Deputy Governor of Nimruz told me that Iran had deployed ‘foot soldiers’ in border with the village and have sent several letters to the governor claiming the village.
"They say Afghanistan took over the village in the flooding wave in 90s where the border distinguishing signs were removed. But this village belongs to Afghanistan and this is a clear fact" the deputy said.
Border skirmishes remain continuous amid calls from the Afghan government to stop insurgency inside the country as well as in the border locations.