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Iranian consulate stonewalls urban development in Herat

16 Oct 2018 Salaam Times

HERAT -- Flanked by tall pine trees on both sides, the construction work on Herat's central street, an 18-km long and 70-meter wide avenue, has come to near completion over the last three years.

However, one final stumbling block has stalled the work -- the Iranian consulate in Herat.

Iranian authorities have long refused to move back the walls of their consulate building, situated in the busy central part of Herat city, so that crews can expand the street.

Iranian consulate building can be seen in the picture taken August 26 in Herat City, Herat Province, that partially blocks oncoming traffic. [Nasir Salehi]

Iranian consulate building can be seen in the picture taken August 26 in Herat City, Herat Province, that partially blocks oncoming traffic. [Nasir Salehi]

The consulate officials have rejected all previous requests made by the local Afghan authorities, according to Herat's municipal officials.

"The development of Herat city should be balanced," Naim Azizi, a spokesman for the Herat municipal government, told Salaam Times.

"[Other buildings on] the city's main street have been pulled back, except for the Iranian consulate, which has been blocking the development of this city," said Azizi.

Prior to implementing the project three years ago, Herat officials first asked the Iranians to move back the walls of their consulate, as was the case [with other buildings] on all other parts of this street, but the Iranian side has always come up with excuses, said Jilani Farhad, spokesman for the Herat provincial governor.

A bad neighbour

The intransigence of the Iranian regime to settle the wall issue has enraged local residents.

They say the issue has undermined the principles of good neighbourly relations between Iran and Afghanistan.

"The central street of Herat city is an extremely important road, and the Iranian consulate has caused serious problems," said Mohammad Aref Karimi, a 27-year-old resident of Herat Province.

"A great number of Afghans use this road for their daily commute, including for the hospital, which is situated nearby. Many patients have lost their lives because of traffic congestion and their delay in reaching the hospital," Karimi told Salaam Times.

"The Afghan government should not show weakness against Iran, and the process of moving the consulate's walls on this street must be completed," he added.

The road has been closed for many years because of the consulate, confirmed Mohammad Nader Ghulami, a 33-year-old resident of Herat Province.

"The consulate has caused a lot of problems for the people of Herat. Residents have waited for years to witness the widening of the main public road, but Iranians have been preventing this from happening," he told Salaam Times. "The Afghan government ... should not have given the Iranians this much time."

Some officials urge the Afghan government to pursue legal channels.

"The Afghan government should have resolved this problem through legal action, and it still needs to do so," Kamran Alizai, chairman of Herat's Provincial Council, told Salaam Times. "This is a salient problem, and the road is still closed to the public."

Holding out for concessions

Iran is holding out on the consulate issue in order to extract concessions from the Afghan government, some Afghan civil society activists argue.

In the past, Iran has threatened to suspend consular and visa services over the wall issue. For example, in January 2012, Iran halted consular services for a week when Herat municipal officials attempted to demolish security barriers that Iran had illegally installed on the sidewalk next to its consulate.

Herat municipal officials said the sidewalk is the property of the city. Iran's diplomatic mission in Herat, however, considers the sidewalk to be its property.

Part of the issue is the legality of the building. The Iranian government, contrary to all international obligations and conventions, purchased the land for the consulate from local Afghan residents without any co-ordination with the Afghan government, according to a July 2016 article published by the Hasht-e-Subh Afghan Daily newspaper.

The extent to which the Iranian government is resisting shows that it wants the Afghan government to cave in to its baseless demands, said Sayyed Ashraf Sadat, a civil society activist in Herat Province.

"It is a shame that the public should suffer for years from such an unresolved, [seemingly] insignificant problem. At any rate, the issue of the Iranian consulate's wall in Herat should have been resolved by now, so that residents could witness the development of their city," he told Salaam Times.

"Iran plays a role in our fate and speaks from a position of power. The Afghan government should have used all political options to fix this problem," noted Sadat.

"Unfortunately, however, there has been a lack of sufficient efforts in that area," he added.

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