Taliban commission first section of major canal that could threaten water sufficiency of Central Asia neighbours

By bne IntelIiNews October 12, 2023

Afghanistan’s Taliban administration has held a ceremony to commission the first section of the Qosh Tepa canal, an emerging piece of major infrastructure that is causing anxieties across the border in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan—and to a much smaller extent in Tajikistan—due to fears that it could cause water shortages, Afghanistan TV channel TOLOnews reported on October 12.

Officials were quoted as saying that the 108-kilometre (67-mile) first section, located by the border with Uzbekistan in Afghanistan’s northern province of Balkh, was completed eight months ahead of schedule. The planned total length of the Qosh Tepa canal, which will divert water from the Amu Darya river, is 285 km. The diversion could have irrigation and hydropower implications.

Deputy head of the Taliban government, Abdul Ghani Baradar, was cited as saying at the ceremony as saying that Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours should not be worried by the emergence of the canal. Kabul has indicated it is prepared to work on finding diplomatic solutions on defining rights to the Amu Darya water resources.

However, Afghanistan’s Minister of Water Resources and Energy, Abdul Latif Mansour, reportedly pointed out that as things stand the Afghan authorities are not limited by any intergovernmental agreements on withdrawing water from the Amu Darya.

"[Uzbek President] Shavkat Mirziyoyev's concerns about the waters of the Amu Darya and the Qosh Tepa canal would be appropriate if obligations under an agreement were violated. But we have not accepted any such obligations. There is no agreement. Therefore, we do what we consider necessary," Mansur was quoted as saying.

TOLOnews also reported that the director of Uzbekistan’s Ma'no Center for Research Initiatives, Bakhtiyor Ergashev, had expressed concerns about increased regional tensions due to possible water shortages faced by Central Asian countries after the commissioning of the Qosh Tepa canal. He noted that the countries of the region share water according to quotas agreed within the framework of the Interstate Coordination Water Commission. However, Afghanistan, where the source of the Amu Darya is found, is not limited by any such agreements. It can thus take water from the river without regard to its neighbours.

Mirziyoyev at a September summit of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea proposed involving Afghanistan in a regional dialogue on sharing water resources.

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