ISLAMABAD - A top official in Afghanistan has come under fire for seeming to confirm for the first time that neighboring Iran has recruited thousands of Shi’ite Afghans and “warriors” from other regional countries to fight in Syria.
Deputy Afghan Chief Executive Mohammad Mohaqiq made the controversial statement during a trip last week to Tehran. His remarks were recorded on video and aired and reported by Afghan media, prompting critics to take to social media to denounce him and call for his removal from office.
While addressing an international summit of scholars from Iran and other Muslim nations, the Afghan deputy chief executive is shown praising Major General Qasem Soleimani, who commands foreign operations of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The gathering was convened to discuss ways to fight “the dark ideology” of IS terrorists from a unified Islamic front, according to Iranian media.
The Iranian general is said to be one of the founders of the Fatemiyoun Division, made up of mostly Afghan fighters and deployed to the Syrian conflict zone.
“I thank all the warriors who cooperated in these wars from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other parts of the world who attended the wars. In fact, it was the war of Islam against infidelity and against the conspiracies of the world arrogance,” Mohaqiq said.
The Afghan official did not elaborate and went on to commend “the prominent role” of General Soleimani in the victory in Syria.
?IS moved into Afghanistan
Mohaqiq claimed that more than 10,000 Islamic State members who escaped the conflict, including those from Central Asian states, have now moved to Afghanistan and are threatening stability of northern and western border provinces.
“The northern part of Afghanistan, once a secure area, has now been destabilized after the incursion of Daesh,” Mohaqiq said using local acronym for IS. The instability, he warned, will threaten neighboring Central Asian nations.
The Afghan government has not yet commented on Mohaqiq’s remarks, but the foreign ministry has maintained that reports of Afghans being sent to conflict zones in the Middle East are under investigation and that the issue has also been raised with Iranian authorities.
Allegations from rights groups
Rights defenders have repeatedly drawn international attention to what they say is Tehran’s training and deployment of Afghan refugees in Iran.
Human Rights Watch in a detailed report published last month also accused Iran of committing war crimes by recruiting and sending Afghan immigrant children “as young as 14” to fight in Syria alongside government forces.
The report charged the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps with recruiting and providing combat training to mainly Shi’ite Hazara Afghans who have settled in Iran after fleeing decades of hostilities in their native country.
Recruits for Fatemiyoun Division are said to come mostly from about 2.5 million Afghan refugees, many of them without residency papers. Pro-government Iranian media describes the division as a volunteer Afghan force fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Rights groups have documented cases of Afghans, mostly Shi’ite Hazaras, in Iran who “volunteered” to take part in the Syrian conflict in the hopes of gaining legal status and a monthly income of around $600 for their impoverished refugee families.
Iranian authorities reportedly tell Afghan recruits they are being trained to fight to protect major Shi’ite shrines in Damascus, Aleppo and Raqqa.
Iran is reported to have poured billions into Syria in addition to raising Shi’ite militias from countries with significant Shi’ite population, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, which also hosts millions of Afghan refugees.