Afghanistan has long had a security problem, despite the many who have sought to guarantee its safety. The latest of those revealed themselves this week when Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif offered the Afghan government the help of Afghan Shia militants to fight against Daesh. “In Afghanistan, we are prepared to support [militants] under the leadership of the Afghan government,” said Zarif.
Kabul’s reaction was not an agreeable one. Foreign Ministry spokesman Graan Hewad told Anadolu that “the Constitution, national interests and foreign policy of Afghanistan do not permit Afghan citizens, except when under the national flag, to enter regional wars and conflicts in different countries.”
What the Afghan government came across was not a gesture of peace and friendship in Iran’s offer. It was actually part of a key strategy utilised by Tehran and developed over the decades since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
With a strong base in Lebanon where Iran-backed Hezbollah operates and thrives with near-impunity while the government turns a blind eye, and with numerous armed groups operating under the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) umbrella in Iraq, the Iranian model of proxy militias has been perfected. So much so, in fact, that they have far surpassed the governments and armies of their host countries in their capabilities and projection of influence.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the battle-hardened Afghan Shia militants, who fought on the front lines in Syria with the Liwa Fatemiyoun unit sponsored by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), should now be offered as protection against Daesh cells in their homeland.
Zarif’s offer is also perfectly timed, as a further withdrawal of US troops is set to take place by mid-January, leaving a potential power vacuum in Afghanistan, and the government and military without the support and training provided by America over nearly two decades. With a lighter US military presence looming, Iran has seized the opportunity to “help” its destitute neighbour.
Given that the Fatemiyoun unit – numbering between 10,000 and 20,000 – was made up of mostly Hazara Afghans who sought refuge in and were recruited by Iran to assist the Syrian regime of Bashar Al-Assad, the IRGC could not have picked a more suitable demographic. The Hazara minority has long been persecuted by the rulers of Afghanistan and militant groups such as the Taliban, making them the underdogs of Afghan society when compared with the Pashtuns and Tajiks.
If they are given access to Afghan state security and the kind of power and impunity that Iran-backed Shia militias in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq have, the Hazaras will be the first to benefit. Even the Taliban – a predominantly Sunni Pashtun group – recognised this potential in the run up to the intra-Afghan peace talks earlier this year, recruiting the Shia Hazara militant Mawlawi Mahdi as the leader of its Balkhab district. There have also been reports over the years of Hazara recruits in the Taliban which, despite the majority of Hazaras remaining opposed to such a move, add to the group’s efforts to be seen as a national and inclusive option for the country.
It should be said, though, that Afghanistan is very different to the other states where Iran is backing militias and extending its influence. Lebanon’s Shia population, for example, is roughly 30 per cent of the total population, while Iraq’s Shias are estimated to be double that figure. As for Syria, Iran is influential not in terms of the minimal Shia population but due to political circumstances and its alliance with the Alawite-dominated regime.
Source » middleeastmonitor