KABUL -- Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is continuing to use desperate Afghan refugees as pawns to achieve its political and religious ambitions throughout the region, analysts say.
For the Fatemiyoun Division fighters who have lost their lives as a result of Iran's false promises, however, it is not just a simple game of geopolitical chess.
The members, sent to fight for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, were recruited by the IRGC from communities of Afghan refugees and migrants living inside Iran.
"Iran has misused desperate and poor Afghan refugees for years, and it has deployed young refugees -- some even underage -- to the Syrian war," said Gen. (ret.) Sikander Asghari, former deputy director of the General Directorate of Local Police and a military affairs analyst in Kabul.
"Unfortunately, most of them were killed because of their inadequate military training and unfamiliarity with the Syrian terrain," he said.
In late February, Iranian state media broadcast reports and photographs of funerals for Afghans killed in Syria.
Now, as Syrian government forces gain ground in Syria and have less need for Iranian-backed militias, Tehran might try to use Fatemiyoun in Afghanistan, creating even more carnage.
"They [Tehran] could mobilise and support the Fatemiyoun Division to increase their influence on Afghanistan and achieve their security goals," said Yousuf Amin Zazai, a military affairs analyst in Kabul.
Hiding high casualties
The death toll for Fatemiyoun members keeps mounting, though the exact number remains shrouded in Tehran's secrecy.
However, about 917 Afghan nationals were killed in Syria from January 2012 to September 2019, said Washington-based IRGC watcher Ali Alfoneh in February, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Alfoneh generated the estimate by consulting his own database.
"Reports that the Iranian media run on the killing of Fatemiyoun Division fighters show that Iran continues to misuse Afghan refugees in its proxy war in Syria," Asghari said.
The IRGC convinces Afghan refugees with its false promises to fight for Iran's interests in Syria, said Akbar Jan Polad, a political affairs analyst in Kabul.
"Since commanders of the IRGC know that [doomed] Fatemiyoun Division fighters won't return home, they give them false promises of permanent Iranian residency, apartments and high salaries when they recruit them and before deploying them to the Syrian war," he said.
"These desperate refugees who are in dire need of jobs and money fall prey to the tricks of the IRGC -- not knowing that the Iranian regime consumes them as fuel for its proxy war and achieving its strategic goals in Syria," he said.
"There are proof and documents that the IRGC commanders have left injured Fatemiyoun Division fighters on the battlefields where they succumbed to their severe wounds," he said.
They also have not done anything to free Fatemiyoun Division fighters who have fallen captive to the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), he said.
Fatemiyoun threatening Afghan peace
Tehran is not in favour of peace and a strong government in Afghanistan; therefore, it is using Fatemiyoun Division fighters and other militias under the IRGC's influence to disrupt the peace process, analysts say.
"Iran wants for the United States to continue to engage in war in Afghanistan, to see casualties, to spend abundant money, and to lose its political and military energy so that it cannot attack [Iran]," said Maj. Gen. (ret.) Zahir Azimi, a military affairs analyst in Kabul and former spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence.
"For this very reason, it may inflict harm on [US interests in Afghanistan] with the help of individuals and groups loyal to them," he said.
"Forty years of war and crisis have provided an opportunity for countries in the region, especially Iran, to intervene in Afghanistan," Azimi said. "And if the peace process is not in favour of Iran, it will use every possible option to disrupt the peace process in Afghanistan as it did in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen."
In addition to financial incentives, Tehran foments sectarianism as a means to achieve its goals, said Omar Nehzat, leader of the Freedom Unity Party of the People of Afghanistan.
"It misuses religious teachings and sends Afghan refugees to war in the name of defending Shia sacred sites," he said.
"Iran has influence in Afghanistan," Nehzat said. "There are even [some] high-ranking government officials who overtly defend the Fatemiyoun Division, and these puppets of Iran will prepare the ground for Fatemiyoun to sabotage the peace process."
Human rights abuses
Abdul Saboor Yaftali, 39, a resident of Badakhshan Province who works in construction in Kabul, lived in various parts of Iran for nearly 13 years.
"I have witnessed Iranians badly treating and torturing Afghan refugees," he said. "They used to harass Afghan refugees. They employed them in very hard labour that violated their human dignity and then gave them a very low wage."
"Most Afghan refugees in Iran grappled with unemployment and economic problems, and some of them were desperate to accept the Iranian military's offer and went to war in Syria in exchange for money," he said.
"Iran's deploying Afghan refugees to the war in Syria is a breach of humanitarian laws and principles," said Nabi Mesdaq, a political affairs analyst in Kabul. "It is clear that Iran has kept sending Afghan refugees to the Syrian war in which they get killed."
"We call on the Afghan government to make every effort to stop the [Afghan] refugees from being sent to the Syrian war," he said.
"If it alone is not able to stop Iran, it has to reach out to the United Nations and human rights advocacy organisations for help, or submit a complaint to international [criminal] courts about Iran's human rights violations."