HERAT -- Recent remarks by Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh about the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and perceived ethnic tensions in Afghanistan have sparked sharp criticism among Afghans.
At a news conference on Monday (April 25) in Tehran, Khatibzadeh said there was no majority or minority ethnic group in Afghanistan.
Pashtuns are a minority ethnic group, while Tajiks and Hazaras make up the majority of the Afghan people, he said.
Herat residents expressed outrage over the spokesman's remarks and said they view them as a clear indication of the Iranian regime's intention to inflame ethnic tensions in Afghanistan.
"Given the problems that have arisen in Afghanistan, the Iranian regime is trying to provoke divisions among Afghan ethnic groups and keep the conflict ongoing," said Husain Qaderi, a resident of Herat city.
The Islamic Republic has no right to comment on Afghanistan's ethnic groups and internal affairs, he said, adding that Afghans will stand against any Iranian interference and divisiveness.
Tehran has been discriminating against minority groups in its own country but shamelessly dares to comment on Afghan ethnic groups as a way to prolong Afghan strife, said Jawed Nayaesh, another resident of Herat city.
"The Iranian regime's antagonisation of ethnic tensions is a clear indication of interference in the internal affairs of our country," he said. "Iran's interference in Afghanistan must stop so that our country does not burn in the fire of war once again."
"The Iranian regime has been fuelling ethnic tensions in Afghanistan for several years but has never achieved its goals," Nayaesh said. "Afghans have proven to be united, and no one can create divisions among them."
Destroying Afghanistan through Fatemiyoun
In further remarks, Khatibzadeh said Iran is ready to take the lead in fighting ISIS in Afghanistan and is willing to share its experience in the fight against the terrorist group.
Military analysts and many Afghans, however, see those remarks as an indication of Tehran's intention to deploy forces from the Fatemiyoun Division -- a militia comprised of Afghans formed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)'s Quds Force (IRGC-QF) -- in Afghanistan.
The Islamic Republic sees the rising threat of ISIS attacks in Afghanistan as a potential opportunity to bring Fatemiyoun fighters into the country, said Herat-based military analyst Wahidullah Nikbeen.
"The Iranian regime has recruited Afghans in Fatemiyoun to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria and now wants to deploy them in Afghanistan," he said. "The regime uses the Fatemiyoun forces only to advance its goals and proxy wars."
"Iranian forces are incapable of fighting ISIS and have always used coerced Afghan refugees in the country and dragged them to the battlefields as part of its Fatemiyoun army," he said.
Iran's deployment of Fatemiyoun forces in Afghanistan would ignite an ethnic and religious war, Nikbeen warned.
For that reason, Afghans will never allow the Iranian regime to enter Afghanistan under the pretext of fighting ISIS, said Herat city resident Mohammad Akbar Hosseini.
"The Iranian regime has destroyed Iraq and Syria and massacred thousands of innocent people under the pretext of fighting ISIS," he said. "Moreover, the regime's mercenaries have shed the blood of thousands of innocent people in Iraq, Syria and Yemen."
"After bringing destruction to several countries in the Middle East, Iran aims to destroy Afghanistan," he added.
Iran must realise that Afghanistan is not its geopolitical playground and that its nefarious plans for Afghanistan will fail, Hosseini said.
Khatibzadeh's comments come amid the backdrop of increasing tensions between Iranian and Afghan border forces.
For example, an Iranian border force vehicle and eight border guards entered Afghanistan on Sunday via Herat's Islam Qala border crossing and tried to prevent the construction of a local road.
Afghan border forces detained the Iranian soldiers for several hours and seized their vehicle.
Following that incident, Iran deployed hundreds of troops with tanks and military equipment near the border, making the situation at the border even more tense.
The entry of Iranian troops into Afghanistan is a clear violation of the country's territorial integrity, said Sayed Nazir Sabit, a civil society activist in Herat city.
"The Iranian regime wants to show its military power to the Afghans by deploying its forces in the border areas," he said.
"The Iranians must refrain from invading Afghanistan," he said. "If the conflict breaks out between the two countries, no matter how powerful Iranian forces are entering the battlefield, they will not return alive."
Iran's military drills at the border are a clear provocation, said Herat resident Gulabuddin Sayefi.
"While Afghans are encountering enormous economic challenges, the Iranian regime, instead of extending support, attempts to destabilise the situation to engulf Afghanistan in yet another conflict," he said.
"The Iranian regime has never favoured peace and stability in Afghanistan but has used all its strength to ensure that the country remains a battleground for proxy wars," he added.