THE SECURITIZATION OF TRANSBOUNDARY WATER RESOURCES: A Discourse Analysis of Iranian-Afghan Relations in the Helmand River Basin
Over the past few decades, Iran has been facing an increasingly severe water crisis. The Helmand River Basin, which stretches from southwestern Afghanistan to eastern Iran, has been the site of an on-and-off dispute between the two countries for nearly a century, but it has become more salient recently against the backdrop of Iran’s water crisis and Afghanistan’s dam construction upstream. While the literature suggests that transboundary water resources in the Helmand River Basin have been politicized and even securitized on the Iranian side, no study has examined how Iranian government officials have framed water as a political and security issue. This study responds to this gap by analyzing 136 Persian-language news articles from 2014 to 2019 that contained statements by Iranian officials related to the Helmand River Basin, identifying the themes and discursive mechanisms behind the politicization and securitization of this issue. Based on securitization theory, 25 percent of these articles contained a securitizing move, 88 percent of which were made by local officials and Members of Parliament. This demonstrates that securitization was largely a localized phenomenon and reflects the broader internal tensions over the framing of water relations with Afghanistan among Iranian officials. Another key theme throughout the discourse was the link between human and environmental systems, with the importance of transboundary water resources being established through their connection to society. This study proposes that spatial scale, water scarcity, and socio-political context are important factors shaping securitization in the Helmand River Basin.
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