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10KABUL442 2010-02-04 12:34:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Kabul
Cable title:  

Trans-boundary Water Issues: Slow but Sure Progress

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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 000442 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 2/4/2020
SUBJECT: Trans-boundary Water Issues: Slow but Sure Progress

REF: A. 09 Kabul 3639

B. 09 Kabul 2933

C. 09 Tashkent 001513

Classified By: CDDEA Ambassador E. Anthony Wayne for reasons 1.4 (b)
and (d).

1. (C) Summary: Afghanistan's Ministry of Energy and Water (MEW) in
concert with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) is leading an
effort to address trans-boundary water rights. While Afghanistan
remains reluctant to engage fully with its neighbors on this issue,
USG-supported training is improving the outlook for dialogue by
building capacity in relevant Afghan ministries. An internal GIRoA
review of policy and treaties has raised questions about the status
of Afghanistan's 1973 water treaty with Iran, with Afghan officials
claiming Iranian "conspiracies" are casting doubt on what they
contend is a ratified agreement. While hampered by the lack of
trans-boundary water agreements, donors are developing coordinated
water strategies with GIRoA and each other. Afghan officials have
made considerable progress since August 2009, when many flatly
refused to discuss trans-boundary water issues, even with donors
offering assistance. If left unaddressed, GIRoA's failure to address
these issues will limit its ability to develop fully the water
infrastructure Afghanistan needs. The U.S. Mission believes SCA/RA's
exploration of regional program opportunities constitutes an
opportunity to widen Afghanistan's engagement on cross-border water
questions. End summary.

Building Afghan Capacity and Reviewing Policy
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

2. (U) On January 21, a USAID-funded advisor embedded at the MEW
began classes aimed at raising Afghan ministerial capacity on the
trans-boundary water issues. (Note: The start of classes was delayed
three days due to the January 18 Taliban attacks in Kabul. End note.)
The classes include participants from MEW, MFA, the Ministry of
Interior, the Ministry of Border and Tribal Affairs, and the Ministry
of Justice. The planned curriculum addresses:
--trans-boundary water issues worldwide;
--Afghanistan's trans-boundary water concerns;
--conflict and cooperation;
--perspectives on the use of water and understanding downstream needs;
--international water law: principles and practice; and
--treaty law, including case studies.

Eighteen officials are attending the training (eight from MEW, four
from MFA, and two each from the Ministries of Interior, Borders and
Tribal Affairs, and Justice.) The courses are expected to continue
for two to three months, with additional time available at the
officials' request.

3. (C) The MEW also plans a legal review of Afghanistan's current
international water agreements in cooperation with a senior
inter-ministerial council. The MEW will then select pilot
inter-boundary water infrastructure projects with input from the
United States and other donors and use these projects as an
opportunity to continue to build expertise within MEW. (Comment: The
U.S. Mission recently approved an MFA request for an additional
trans-boundary water advisor. USAID is reviewing suitable
candidates. End comment.)

4. (C) As an example of the difficulty of water issues for GIRoA,
lingering doubts surround the validity of the 1973 treaty with Iran
to share water from Afghanistan. The USAID-funded advisor at MEW
reports that so far no one at the Afghan MFA or MEW can prove that
the treaty was ratified by both countries. The advisor has
recommended, through MEW leadership, that MFA find the original of
the treaty and register it with the UN, to ensure that it is
internationally recognized. She notes, however, that conspiracy
theories are rife at both ministries: Afghan officials believe that
Iran is spreading rumors that the treaty was never ratified and
suggest that Iran is not above making any Afghan or Iranian copies
disappear. As "evidence" that the treaty is in force, Afghan
officials point to the quarterly meetings of the bilateral Helmand
River Commission, but this is not proof in itself of treaty
ratification. Moreover, the actual water quantities set out in the
treaty text have never been enforced, and Iran takes more water from
the Helmand River than its allowance under the treaty.

Balancing Momentum with Caution
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

5. (C) GIRoA representatives still hesitate to support any discussion
on trans-boundary water issues in any international context. The
GIRoA position on trans-boundary water remains that it does not have
enough technical negotiating capability nor enough projects built up
to start talking with its neighbors. MEW Deputy Minister Ziaie, who
also chairs the Technical Secretariat of the Supreme Council for
Water Affairs Management, recently underscored GIRoA's desire that
its neighbors and the international community show understanding for
Afghanistan's turbulent history and allow it to build up
infrastructure before applying international trans-boundary norms.
The USAID-funded technical advisor at MEW sympathized privately, but

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added "in international negotiations, 'it's not fair' doesn't count
for much."

6. (C) GIRoA, in the past, has rebuffed invitations to regional water
meetings for fear of being pressed to provide more water access to
Central Asian neighbors. Ministries are now beginning to selectively
accept invitations for international water meetings. Deputy Minister
Ziaie accepted invitations to Almaty and Dushanbe this year to
observe Central Asian cooperation on the Ural Sea. Tajikistan's
position as a less developed Central Asian republic and its status as
an upstream neighbor has fostered cooperation between Afghanistan and
Tajikistan on water issues. For example, MEW contacts report that
the Tajiks have suggested a cross-border water-sharing agreement for
drought areas, where water from tributaries on one side of the Amu
Darya will be piped to dry areas in the bordering country, avoiding
the expensive pumping requirements to move water from the Amu itself.

7. (C) The Afghan government is still avoiding some international
fora where water rights issues might be raised, however. The MFA
recently declined an East-West Institute invitation to Pakistan to
attend an Abu Dhabi-funded bilateral confidence building meeting on
water issues. A USAID-funded advisor to interim Minister of Energy
and Water Ismail Khan told us that Khan is unwilling to consider
talking with neighbors about water sharing without a complete and
concrete plan of donor-funded projects; meanwhile, however, donors
are unable to create long-term water and hydropower project plans
since they lack confidence that the Afghan government will be able
enter into talks with neighbors.

More Work Ahead
- - - - - - - -

8. (U) Hiring an additional USAID advisor for MFA will allow GIRoA to
build on recent progress in opening up water dialogues. The advisor
now in place at the MEW is also investigating training opportunities
available through the UN and other donors, to supplement the courses
she is teaching to GIRoA officials. UNAMA is eager to support the
effort through liaison with its Central Asia Regional Office of
Conflict Prevention, the Mediation Support Unit, and UNESCO. The
UNAMA representation in Kabul offers a strong base of water expertise
through its network of UN agencies and past work in the region.

9. (U) A draft Embassy Kabul Interagency Water Strategy targets the
most important areas for progress in the Afghan water sector:

--Improving irrigation will increase agricultural productivity.
--Using soil and water conservation will complement water storage and
irrigation improvements.
--Expanding access to clean water will improve sanitation, health,
and productivity.
--Utilizing hydropower (one of Afghanistan's greatest comparative
advantages relative to its neighbors) will help meet a vast need for
electrification, while offering the potential of better flow
management for downstream neighbors.
--Improving overall government and management will better ensure
sustainability of all sector activities.

However, large scale projects in any of the above areas will require
GIRoA's political will and technical skill to resolve regional
transboundary issues, and therefore this last theme is also part of
the strategy.

- - - -

10. (C) At present, new water projects in Afghanistan are limited to
the renovation of existing structures or smaller-scale projects until
new trans-boundary agreements are in place. Afghanistan's neighbors
are distrustful of development in Afghanistan that could limit the
water they receive. On the other hand, some Afghan officials feel
that the international community is unnecessarily delaying investment
over the issue of trans-boundary rights, that its neighbors "owe"
Afghanistan a grace period to develop, and that starting negotiations
before building infrastructure will put Afghanistan at a strategic
disadvantage. The U.S. Mission thanks SCA/RA for exploring regional
program opportunities on trans-boundary water issues and believes
this constitutes a solid approach to widening Afghanistan's views on
solutions to cross-border water questions. We look forward to
working with you. End comment.