“Regional cooperation offers opportunities to address common concerns, including counter-terrorist financing, improving border security, fostering dialogue with religious institutions and leaders, and countering human trafficking and drug smuggling,” said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, briefing a 19 January Security Council meeting on building regional partnership in Afghanistan and Central Asia.
The Secretary-General highlighted significant opportunities for intra-regional trade and said that even “modest” improvements can result in substantial gains for all the people of the region.
In that context, Guterres noted ongoing recent intensification of cooperation between Central Asian governments on water resources through bilateral water commissions and agreements.
“These developments hold important lessons for Afghanistan, where water-dependent farming and agriculture make up nearly half the economy,” he said, noting also developments in energy cooperation and projects on strengthening trade and transport connectivity.
Guterres also spoke of the work of the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA) and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in supporting the region and countries but did not specifically mention continuing tensions around water sharing between Afghanistan and the neighboring Islamic Republic of Iran.
In July 2017, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani called for water cooperation among neighboring regional countries in overcoming environmental risk and maintaining peace, while specifically criticizing upstream Afghan damming programs. Speaking at a UN-supported conference in Tehran on “Combating Sand and Dust Storms” Rouhani said “We cannot remain silent about the thing which is apparently damaging our environment. Establishment of several dams in Afghanistan such as Kajaki, Kamal Khan and Salma in the north and south of Afghanistan…threaten a number of bordering provinces in Iran”. At that time Afghanistan’s Ministry of Energy and Water responded sharply saying that it is working hard to implement plans to build “at least 20” large and medium-sized dams in the country.
Convened by Kazakhstan in its capacity as the President of the Security Council for the month of January, the ministerial-level meeting was chaired by the country’s Foreign Minister, Kairat Abdrakhmanov.
The day-long session focusing on the link between security and development and the need to integrate the economies of Afghanistan and its Central Asian neighbors was also addressed by other senior ministers from the region, including: Abdulaziz Kamilov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan; Erlan Abdyldaev, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan; Sirodjidin Aslov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Tajikistan; and Hekanat Khalil Karzai, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan.