Hydro- politics; Turkey's former approach, Afghanistan's current policy
The Historical studies show that there are many similarities in the water development processes of Turkey and Afghanistan. At almost a same period of time, rulers came to power in these two countries who sought to reform by focusing on the nationalistic activities. Meanwhile, the geographical and climatic characteristics of the region persuaded the two established governments to use the issue of water resources development for the sake of their own nationalistic goals with the slogan of achieving modernity, and since then, the two countries doubled their efforts for development of the water resources, specifically dam construction. Despite many similarities, the course of historical events brought different results for the two countries. The historical events turned Turkey into a seemingly leading country in the development of water resources structures, and pushed Afghanistan backward in this marathon. In the current era, the evidence shows that Afghanistan is determined to advance in this marathon, a determination that is based on following Turkey’s model, with an especial focus on the common transboundary waters.
By: Dr. Hojjat Mianabadi, Seyedeh Zahra Qureishi
For proper policy-making in the field of water resources, it is necessary to know history and analyzing its narratives; because some consider politics as the science of updating history and believe that it is necessary for the policymakers to have a historical understanding of the past issues and be able to take advantage of this understanding for the future events. Proper policymaking in the field of water interactions and hydro- political relations is no exception to this fact. Following the spread of modernization school of thought and emergence of strong desires among different countries for more development, the global movement towards development - without knowing its dimensions and consequences – was accelerated. The process of development in the West Asia region, which was derived from the school of modernization in the West, had shown itself in the water issues of the region and its obvious manifestation was imitating the western instrumental approaches that were designed to dominate human beings over the nature.
The historical studies show that there are many similarities in the water development processes of Turkey and Afghanistan. At almost a certain part of history, a number of rulers came to power in these two countries (Amanullah Khan (1919-1929) and Zahir Shah (1933-1973) in Afghanistan and Ataturk (1923-1938) in Turkey who sought to reform their own countries by focusing on nationalistic activities. Meanwhile, the geographical and climatic characteristics of the region persuaded the two governments to use the water development as a tool for achieving their nationalistic goals, with the slogan of achieving modernity. Since then, the two countries have sought to further develop their water resources, specifically dam construction. Despite the similarities, the course of historical events brought different results for the two countries. The historical events made Turkey a seemingly leading country in the development of water resources structures and pushed Afghanistan backwards in this marathon.
In the current era, various evidences show that Afghanistan, based on Turkey’s path, is determined to advance in this dam construction marathon, with an especial focus on its common transboundary waters. Accordingly, examining the evolution of water resources development in Turkey can play an enlightening role in explaining the sustainability of achieving the development goals in the political future of Afghanistan and subsequent water-based developments in this country. Therefore, in this article, we first analysis the history of state-building and nation-building via using water resources in these two countries, and then the past and present common doctrine of the two countries in the field of water resources management will be analyzed. We will also look at the process of westernization in the two countries in the past and present. And finally, the consequences of following Turkey's hydro-political discourse in the field of water relations for Afghanistan and the surrounding region will be examined.
State-building and nation-building via using water resources
History has shown that state-building has always been one of the most important goals behind building huge structures in nature, especially over shared resources. In the meantime, dam construction has always been a source of pride for the officials. The importance of this issue is such that politicians believe that "promise to build a dam, win an election."
The construction of dams and other large water structures also plays an important role in nation-building. By nationalizing water resources, the officials treat water as an internal resource like land. The nationalization of the shared water resources is considered as the symbol of national identity of the governments. In fact, by nationalization of water resources, the officials try to stimulate the feeling of ownership in their own people in order to be able to take more steps towards nation-building. That is why the governments often use the issue of natural resources as a means to gain more legitimacy and authority.
There are numerous examples regarding Turkey's efforts to use water resources for state-building and nation-building. For instance, the country has used the image of the Ataturk Dam on its one million Lira banknote to form its citizens' perception regarding controlling the international waters, including the Euphrates river. Turkey’s efforts to institutionalize the water resources of the Euphrates basin as part of the Turkish people's assets, nationalize it and finally turn it into a nation-building issue, have also been evident in the speeches of Turkish officials. For example, the statement by Turgut Ozal, the eighth president of Turkey, regarding the temporary water contract between Turkey and Syria was an obvious effort to use the issue of water resources as a tool for nationalizing the water issue and then realize nation-building through it. Although about 20 percent of the Euphrates river basin is located in Syria, Turgut Ozal considered the river as part of Turkey’s assets and believed that "the water of the Euphrates River was sold cheaply." The ninth President of Turkey Suleyman Demirel also used the "Turkish water" phrase at the opening ceremony of the Ataturk Dam to remind its own country’s ownership over the transboundary water resources. Although such statements could increase the legitimacy and authority of the Turkish statesmen in the mid-term and intensify the patriotic sentiments in the short-term, there is ample evidence that show these approaches had finally led to severe instability in the region in the long run. Also, from a political, social, economic, environmental and even security perspective, this issue did not lead to sustainable development for "society" and "environment".
A comparative study of water-based development policy trajectory in Afghanistan shows a similar trend. The rulers and leaders of this country have repeatedly made the issue of water resources as the main focus of their speeches and political activities, with the aim of forming the Afghan people’s identity and then go toward nation-building. The President of Afghanistan has on several occasions tried to create a "water is for me" mentality among the people of his country by intensifying national feelings about water. For example, during a three-day national conference called "Water and Sustainable Development" that was held in Kabul in 2017, Ghani reiterated that "water is our dignity and maintaining our dignity is our national goal." Also, at the opening ceremony of the third phase of Kamal Khan Dam in 2017, he acknowledged that "our water is our capital and will not be wasted anymore." The mental ideas embodied in the speeches and statements of the Afghan government are similar in nature to the mental ideas of the Turkish government. These ideas seek to intensify the sense of patriotism among the people to push the country towards nation-building. The intensification of the patriotic emotions can prevent the societies from having a negative view towards the officials, and ultimately increase the tolerance of those societies in the face of different problems. But, these governments are unaware that the nature of these actions, which are contrary to the principals of sustainable development, will have many economic, political and environmental consequences in the long run for the "society" and “surrounding areas." These measures can also lead to widespread social changes in the region.
The doctrines of transboundary water resources management
There are various doctrines regarding the management of transboundary water resources, one of which is the Harmon Doctrine of Absolute Territorial Sovereignty. The Harmon Doctrine is one of the most notorious theories among the international laws regarding the natural resources. The doctrine was formed in 1895 based on the views of the US Attorney General Judson Harmon in response to the State Department’s request for an advice on the United States-Mexico dispute over the exploitation of the Rio Grande river. The Harmon Doctrine holds that a country is absolutely sovereign over the portion of an international watercourse within its borders. According to this doctrine, those parts of each river which are located within the boundaries of a certain country are in fact parts of the national waters of that country and, of course, that country can use it in any way it wants. This doctrine is completely contrary to justice and fairness and has been rejected by many international conventions and institutions.
Despite this issue, the manifestation of the Harmon Doctrine has been quite evident in the statements of Turkish officials in the past. For example, Turgut Ozal stated in 1988: "We do not tell the Arabs what to do with their oil, so we do not accept any suggestion from them about what to with our water." Former Turkish President Suleyman Demirel also claimed that "water is like oil and other natural resources and all the natural resources must be shared with respect to the rights of both parties. One barrel of water is equivalent to one barrel of oil. Water resources belong to Turkey; Oil resources belong to them. We do not want them to share their oil resources with us, and they cannot share our water resources." Although the premise of Demirel's statement is the well-known principle of fair use of the natural resources, in practice his conclusion is based on the Harmon doctrine and the principle of absolute territorial sovereignty. Reza Takin, the Turkish ambassador to Iran, also stated in his speech at the International Conference on Combating Sand and Dust Storms (2017) in Tehran: “Today, a bottle of water is more expensive than a barrel of oil, and nations insist that water is a national resource and the right of every government. Now that water is more expensive than oil, then why we do not share oil?”
Although the Harmon doctrine has become obsolete for a long time and has been replaced by other doctrines, it is still evident in Afghanistan's water policies. March 2019, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, the 13th president of Afghanistan, said: "We are investing in water control because every drop of the Afghan water will be more expensive than the oil of our neighbors." At the opening ceremony of Kamal Khan Dam in 2021, he also spoke about exchanging the surplus water of the Helmand River with oil. It seems that Afghanistan, regardless of the rights of the downstream communities as well as the rules of the environment, is trying to use the nationalization of water as a mean for nation-building. It should be noted that stoking tensions among the neighboring communities is one of the consequences of applying the Harmon doctrine; For example, divisions that has been created among the Mesopotamia communities as a result of the Turkish dams, or the tensions that has occurred among the communities of the Great Sistan as a result of the water shortage caused by Dam construction upstream of Greater Sistan and Greater Khorasan.
Tendency for westernization and symbolic enemy-making
At one time, tendency towards westernization was very evident in Turkey, and now this attitude is spreading in Afghanistan. Turkey has previously sought to join the European Union by focusing on the West and the western countries. But the European Union's delay in accepting the country, changed Ankara’s approach. This change in approach is result of the introduction of the strategic depth doctrine by former Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. This doctrine has created a new approach in the country's foreign policy, by which the Turkish officials are trying to move from hard diplomacy to soft diplomacy. This change in approach has also affected Turkey's water policy. Although the Turkish policymakers still emphasize on the strategy of building large hydraulic structures, the way they deal with this issue have been different in terms of different doctrines (initially the Harmon doctrine and hard diplomacy, and now the doctrine of strategic depth and soft diplomacy). And based on these changes, Turkey's approach to water resources management has also changed recently.
Turkey's strategic depth doctrine in the cross-border and international affairs has also influenced its doctrine regarding the water policies. Turkey, which believed in "oil-for-water exchange", is now trying to "de-securitize" its numerous dam constructions and its extensive anti-security hydro political measures and in the international arena. The strategic depth doctrine persuaded Turkey to change its water diplomacy due to the obsolescence of the Harmon doctrine. Accordingly, the Turkish politicians, who have shifted to soft diplomacy, have recently claimed that the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates basins are not tools to achieve the country’s political goals. They also claimed that the Turkish water structures will not pose any threat to the downstream countries of the common watersheds.
Turkey has also has decided to abandon its westernization policy, and move towards the eastern countries, arguing that Ankara should not restrict its activities to the Balkans or West Asia. Turkey, for example, is now seeking to expand its influence in some Central Asian countries as well as Afghanistan. The country has also hosted the Istanbul International Conference on Afghanistan (November 2011) in the recent years to take more steps to resolve the regional issues. Turkey has increased the number of scholarships granted to the Afghan students and is investing in Afghanistan's economic development. Turkey has also expressed desire to host the Afghan peace summit which was to be held in April 2021. Moreover, Ankara seeks to play a significant role in Afghanistan's infrastructure and water projects. Among these large-scale plans and projects, we can refer to investment in the third phase of Kamal Khan Dam as well as the Kajaki Dam on the Helmand River.
According to many analysts, westernization and de-traditionalization have now become prevalent in Afghanistan- like turkey’s approach in the past. The tendency of the Afghan government towards the West, and the biased actions of some popular Afghan media are meant to lead the nation towards the western culture. This approach is so strong that some people in the Afghan society sometimes show a negative view towards the neighboring countries who have reached out to them at different times. This issue is very evident in the western borders of Afghanistan (which have a common identity with the people of Iran), due to the highlighting of water issues in the Harirod and Helmand basins. According to many analysts, the only issue that can undermine the relationship between Iran and Afghanistan is the issue of water. Therefore, the consequence of the actions and policies of the Afghan government in highlighting the water issues between the community of Sistan and Khorasan will be nothing but a gap. It is predicted that Turkey’s experience and its efforts to get closer to the regional countries will also be repeated in Afghanistan.
Conclusion: Discourse-building in water resource management
Turkey seeks to shape its own water discourse via a soft approach, because the country was one of the only three countries who voted against the UN Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses in 1997. It seems that Turkey is looking for cooperation with the upstream countries such as Afghanistan at the global level in order to be able to create a special pattern and discourse on the exploitation of common transboundary waters in the world. In this way, Ankara can challenge the examples of the 1997 UN convention via cooperating with these upstream countries and globalizing of this process. Accordingly, it is expected that Turkey's actions and activities in the field of hydropolitics and water diplomacy can affect the non-neighboring countries, including Afghanistan, and make their officials to imitate Turkey’s model. However, it should be noted that these policies will not lead to a sustainable growth in Turkey and the region, and their environmental, social and political consequences will turn into the Turkish authorities’ main challenge in the future.
The consequences of Turkey’s mismanagement in the field of water resources would be worrying for the security of the country and the region, because these measures have led to the fundamental changes at the national and international levels, and will be intensified in the future. Thus, it can be said that history of water resources management in Turkey is a wrong model for copying and can predict the consequences of Afghanistan’s actions for its neighboring countries. The historical actions of Turkey regarding the implementation of national water projects have created many social and political challenges for the Kurdish regions of the country, and changed their demographic structures. For example, the construction of the Ilisu Dam, which is one of the water projects implemented in the Hasankeyf region, has submerged a significant part of the historic city of Hasankeyf. This lesson can be instructive for the Afghan government. The Afghan government are busy with nationalizing its common water resources along the border areas, especially those which are adjacent to Iran. This comes as these actions are threatening the common economic, social, ecological and cultural values and opportunities of the Hamun international wetlands. Agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry, fishing and hunting have been the main sources of livelihood for the residents of Sistan in the past. But, the environmental changes have disrupted these jobs and pushed the residents towards smuggling of goods, fuel and drugs as well as chaned the values, norms and structures of the Sistan region. Therefore, it is predicted that Afghanistan’s current approach in nationalization of the common water resources will have irreparable consequences for the common communities of the Hamun region.
Since water is the only issue that can destroy the common identity of Iran and Afghanistan as well as the good relations between the "local and national communities" of the two countries -- which have many strong links in terms of history, language, culture and religion -- it is essential for the Afghan politicians, experts, and elites to be aware of the consequences of highlighting the water-related disputes regarding the Kamal Khan Dam. Because the consequences of Afghanistan's water policies can be a rift between Iran and Afghanistan, and the consequences of dam constructions will be effective in changing the social situation of the downstream regions. Adopting such policies may temporarily lead to more popularity for the rulers, but they will not bring stability for "society" and "environment."
Dr. Hojjat Mianabadi,is an Assistant Professor, Department of Water Engineering and Management, Tarbiat Modares University eyedeh Zahra Qureishi,is an M.A graduate of Water Resources Management, University of Tehran