On March 2, Mohammad-Hashem Esmat-Allahi, who served as a senior adviser to former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, praised Afghan Shiite militiamen fighting in Syria.  “The Fatemiyoun group is a foretaste of the governance of the Imam of the Era and the transnational struggle against injustice… Geographic boundaries will lose their meaning during the reign of the Imam Mahdi, and the Fatemiyoun group has demonstrated the transnational reign of the Imam,” Esmat-Allah told an assembly of Afghans in the Iranian city of Mashhad commemorating Fatemiyoun combatants killed in Syria.

Separately, on March 5, Ahmad Saeedi, an Afghan international affairs expert, in an interview with the Islamic Republic News Agency, said: “The Fatemiyoun Division, which consists of Afghans, is an anti-terror force whose role will never change and one must not be worried about its future.” However, Saeedi did express some concern: “One day, both sides of the fight in Syria, meaning those who fight the terrorists in Syria and the terrorists themselves, will return to Afghanistan and one must be concerned about the negative dimensions of such a presence.”

Comment: While none of these statements provide proof of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) actively deploying the Fatemiyoun Division to Afghanistan, they clearly reflect a debate amongst Afghans, who fear the spillover effects of the Syrian war into their country.

On July 13, 2017, Pir-Mohammad Molla-Zehi, a Sunni Afghan Middle East expert based in Iran, in an interview with Qods Khabar, warned against deployment of the Afghan Fatemiyoun Division to Afghanistan: “Unfortunately, the wars in Iraq and Syria became sectarian wars and mistakes were made… The Islamic State is trying to plant discord between Shiites and Sunnis and we must be vigilant. The Fatemiyoun and other Divisions supported by Iran, are still not capable of mobilizing the Sunnis… With its past record, should the Fatemiyoun Division return to Afghanistan and not recruit Sunnis, it will in reality play the game of the Islamic State.”

But Esmat-Allahi’s remarks also show that some Afghans close to Tehran voice support for the Fatemiyoun fighters. Esmat-Allahi, after all, lived in Iran and completed his graduate studies there.

Likewise, on July 3, 2017, Hojjat al-Eslam Seyed Naser Ahmadi, who is referred to as “Afghan holy warrior” [mojahed-e afghanestani] and who is somehow related to the office of Iranian cleric Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani, said: “The struggle of Afghan holy warriors, in particular the Fatemiyoun Division, against the Islamic State in Syria, has made the Islamic State to attack the defenseless and innocent people of Afghanistan in revenge.”

With a minimum 868 losses, the Afghan Fatemiyoun Division, is an almost entirely Afghan militia unit, which has sacrificed the second largest combat fatalities in Syria, only surpassed by Lebanese Hezbollah . Syria, however, was probably just a testing ground for the militia, which may be deployed in Afghanistan.

Last November, Haji Mohammad Mohaqeq, a deputy to Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, triggered an outcry in Afghanistan, when he hailed the Fatemiyoun Division during his speech at the Islamic Awakening Conference in Tehran. “I thank all the fighters who participates in the fights,” Mohaqeq said. “[B]e it fighters from Iraq and Syria, the Iraqi and Syria armies, the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces and also fighters from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other places in the world, who participated in these struggles and prevailed in the struggle of Islam against infidels and conspiracies of Global Arrogance.”

Mohaqeq has since been criticized in Afghanistan for the remarks, which do not reflect the official position of the government of Afghanistan.

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