Negotiations between Afghanistan and Iran concerning the distribution of the waters of the Helmand River (known in Iran as the Hirmand) had been underway since late 1947, when the Department of State tendered its informal good offices and the use of Washington as a neutral ground for informal discussions of the problem. Conversations were soon begun in Washington between representatives of the Afghan and Iranian Governments, and in February 1948 the Department of State suggested that a three-man neutral technical commission be selected by the two Governments to study the problem and recommend a basis for settlement. The Department subsequently suggested that a United States water technician be loaned to serve as Engineer-Factfinder in Iran and Afghanistan and to prepare technical data for use by the proposed commission. This proposal was accepted by the two Governments, and Mr. Malcolm H. Jones was appointed to this post in January 1950.
In March 1950 both Governments agreed upon the selection of three neutral water experts: Messrs. Francisco J. Dominquez, Robert L. Lowry, and Christopher E. Webb; and on September 7, the representatives of the Afghan and Iranian Governments agreed in Washington on the terms of reference for the Helmand River Delta Commission. It was to be a factfinding body which would not recommend an apportionment of water but rather would provide technical data for use by the two Governments in the negotiation and settlement of the problem. Data on the following subjects were to be collected and studied: the stream flow of the Helmand River at or below Band-i-Kamal Khan, including annual and long-range cycles of drought, normal flow, and flood; the past and present uses of the waters of the Helmand in the Delta area (e.g., Iranian Seistan and Afghan Chakhansur), including a study of the land under cultivation there; the existing works in the Delta area for control or diversion of the waters of the river; and plans for new installations and methods [Page 1460] which might enable a more scientific use of available water. Previous reports and documents pertaining to the apportionment of the waters of the Helmand were to be reviewed.
The Commission members convened in Washington on October 6, 1950, and departed immediately for Afghanistan and Iran. They spent 3 weeks in each country collecting data, consulting with the Heads of Government and their officials, and discussing local irrigation troubles with farmers on both sides of the border in the Delta area. On February 28, 1951, the Helmand River Delta Commission presented its report to the Governments of Afghanistan and Iran. The report included a statement of the Commissioners’ view that the engineering data they had presented provided a basis for settlement of the problem by the two Governments.
Principal documentation on U.S. interest in resolving the Helmand River dispute in 1950 and 1951 will be found in Department of State decimal file 889.2614–Helmand; in two files retired by the Office of South Asian Affairs (SOA): Lots 57D401 and 57D421; and in a file retired by the Office of the Country Director for Iran (NEA/IRN), Lot 75D353.