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Afghan Lawmakers Seek To Stop Iran Sending Compatriots To Syria

FILE: The funeral of an Afghan fighter in Iran.
FILE: The funeral of an Afghan fighter in Iran.

Afghan lawmakers are urging their government to undertake a range of bilateral and multilateral diplomatic steps to stop Iran from recruiting Afghans to fight its war in Syria.

Lawmakers are urging Kabul to address the issue after reports emerged this week that more than 10,000 Afghan fighters deployed by Iran to defend the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad have been killed or injured in the past five years.

Fazal Hadi Muslimyar, chairman of Meshrano Jirga, the upper house of the Afghan Parliament, says he wants Kabul to publicly address the issue.

Fazal Hadi Muslimyar
Fazal Hadi Muslimyar

​ “Iran is abusing Afghan refugees and sending them to the war in Syria and Iraq, where more than 2,000 Afghans have been killed,” he told lawmakers on January 9. “I am calling on the Afghan president, the chief executive, and the Foreign Affairs Ministry to lodge a complaint with the Iranian ambassador on this matter.”

A day earlier, Muslimyar criticized the Afghan government for refusing to actively pursue the issue on the diplomatic front.

“They should formally complain and seek help from the members of the United Nations Security Council with whom we have strategic security agreements,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan in an apparent reference to the United States and its Western allies.

His call for demarche has vocal backing from other lawmakers. Aryan Yoon, a female member of Wolesi Jirga or lower house of the Afghan Parliament, says Kabul needs to take a firm stand on the issue because Tehran is exploiting vulnerable Afghan refugees.

“Kabul should suspend its bilateral relations with Tehran,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan. “The Afghan government also needs to raise this issue at international forums and even lodge formal complaints with international bodies that Iran is interfering in its domestic affairs and abusing refugees.”

Lawmaker Abdul Qadir Zazai Watandost says Wolesi Jirga’s foreign relations committee is investigating the issue.

“This issue will be part of our general agenda after the winter recess [in February],” he said.

The issue came into the limelight after Zohair Mojahed, an official for the Fatemiyoun Divison, said that some 10,000 Afghans have either sacrificed their lives or sustained wounds while fighting for al-Assad since 2012.

“This brigade has given more than 2,000 martyrs and 8,000 wounded for Islam,” Mojahed told Iran’s Shargh newspaper on January 6.

While Tehran usually avoids publicizing the topic, Mojahed’s interview followed large-scale protests across Iran where many expressed anger over and questioned their government’s backing for militias and militant groups across the region.

The Fatemiyoun Division is estimated to have 20,000 members, most of whom were recruited from among Afghanistan’s Shi’ite Hazara minority.

In November, Deputy Afghan Chief Executive Mohammad Mohaqiq, a Hazara politician, came under fire for seeming to confirm that thousands of Afghan recruits are fighting in Syria on Iran’s behalf.

Mohammad Mohaqiq
Mohammad Mohaqiq

​“I thank all the warriors who cooperated in these wars from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other parts of the world,” Mohaqiq said at an event in Iran where he praised Major General Qasem Soleimani, foreign operations commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, who is credited with founding the Fatemiyoun Division.

Kabul is treading a careful line on the issue, and presidential spokesman Shah Hussain Murtazawi offered only general criticism.

“We have repeatedly expressed our opposition to all kinds of proxy wars in Afghanistan,” he said. “Similarly, we oppose such wars everywhere. We do not want the blood of our children being spilled for foreign interests in other countries.”

Sibghatullah Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry, however, says Kabul has raised the issue with Tehran and the United Nations.

“We have discussed this issue with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the relevant Iranian authorities,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “We hope the vulnerability of Afghan refugees is not being exploited and that our complaints are seriously addressed on time.”

While Iranian media has frequently reported on the funerals of Afghan fighters killed in Syria, Tehran has not responded to complaints or criticism from Afghanistan.

UNHCR estimates that more than 3 million Afghans including registered refugees, passport holders and undocumented migrants currently live in Iran, which shares a 950-kilometer border with Afghanistan.

In Kabul, Abdul Baqi Baryal, a member of Meshrano Jirga, is pushing for Kabul to address this issue immediately.

He told Radio Free Afghanistan that the Afghan Constitution allows the country’s citizens to only fight under its flag.

“This is a very painful issue. We need to talk seriously about this with Iran soon,” he said.