Since the Taliban took control in Afghanistan in 2021, several former Afghan soldiers have been arrested or have disappeared. Their relatives told IranWire that some of them are in prison on charges of "membership to the Fatemiyoun Brigade," a militia linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guards. These allegations are widely believed to be false and appear to have become a tool for the Taliban to step up violence against its citizens, especially Afghanistan's Hazara (Shia) population.
IranWire approached Taliban officials, asking about the Taliban's relations with former members of the Fatemiyoun Brigade, and their view of these Afghan citizens who joined a militia group linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. So far, there has been no response.
Kazem Jafari, a former soldier in the Afghan armed forces, worked for the National Security Agency in Afghanistan's Herat province for eight years, His job was to identify and detain members of the Taliban. When he lost his job after the fall of Ashraf Ghani's government, he trusted the Taliban's promise of "general amnesty" and did not believe his own arrest was imminent.
Jafari was accused of being a member of the Fatemiyoun Brigade and was arrested, imprisoned and tortured.
The Fatemiyoun Brigade, a military branch of the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, recruited Afghan citizens during the Syrian war, ostensibly to protect holy Shia shrines in the country. In reality, the Quds Force used the men to serve the interests of the Islamic Republic and the Syrian government. Many lost their lives, and many sustained injuries and were left disabled. The fate of hundreds of people remain unknown after fleeing from the brigade or trying to avoid cooperating with the Islamic Republic.
IranWire’s series on the Fatemiyoun Brigade presents testimonies from many former soldiers. They describe how they were deceived by the Islamic Republic after being promised long-term residence in Iran for themselves and their families as well as a monthly salary. Many of these men, so-called "defenders of the shrine,” were sent to the front line, their devotion to Shia Islam exploited for political and military gain.
Some of them returned to Afghanistan. Others now live in Iran. Many others did not return from war. In November 2021, IranWire reported that the Islamic Republic had summoned senior Fatemiyoun Brigade commanders to Syria.
Now former Afghan soldiers such as Kazem Jafari are being accused of serving with the Fatemiyoun Brigade, and are being tortured for it. "My house was raided at night and I was taken to Police Station 12 in the town of Jebraeil," Jafari told IranWire. "They said they had information that proved I was a member of the Fatemiyoun Brigade and that I was spying for Iran. The Taliban flogged me for two days and nights to make me confess. No matter how much I insisted that I was a member of the national security apparatus and was not active after the fall of the government, they would not accept it."
Jafari told IranWire that he had never been to Iran but that the Taliban insisted he was a member of the brigade. "I know the Fatemiyoun Brigade was formed of Hazaras, but I was never a member of it. The Taliban are arresting former soldiers under the pretext of being a member of the Fatemiyoun Brigade."
Jafari says he was released from Taliban detention after mediation from the Hazara ulema and other influential figures. He then fled to Nimroz province in southwestern Afghanistan.
Nimroz province borders Iran and is a hub for human trafficking. Jafari paid eight million tomans [US$296] to a trafficker and was taken to Pakistan and on to Iran.
He now lives in Tehran, where he works as a laborer. He told IranWire that he would not return to Afghanistan while the Taliban were in power.
After the fall of the Afghan government, Taliban leader Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzadeh announced a general amnesty and called on his forces not to retaliate against Afghan citizens. Recently, the state-run Bakhtar news agency reported that the leader reiterated the need to adhere to this amnesty during a visit to the southern Afghan province of Helmand.
The Taliban's promises on the one hand, and the views of officials and their spokesmen on the other, are both inconsistent with the reality of life in Afghanistan today. People are living under greater restrictions, and are regularly threatened with extensive periods in detention and extreme violence.
IranWire spoke to Esmatullah, the brother of a former Afghan army soldier and a Hazara who was also detained by the Taliban. He described the Taliban amnesty decree as "demagogic."
Esmatullah, whose family is from the Barchi Plain region, told IranWire that the Taliban detained his brother over two weeks ago and have accused him of being a member of the Fatemiyoun Brigade. He said, despite the intervention of Hazara elders, his brother remained in Taliban custody. "My brother has been held captive for days. I urge the Taliban not to turn a blind eye to the truth and to release my brother, a former military man and a member of the former Afghan government, as soon as possible."
The majority of senior Afghan military officials left the country in August as the country fell to the Taliban. Many of them fled to neighboring countries, including Iran.
It is still not known how many Afghan citizens joined the Fatemiyoun Brigade over the years, or at least it has never been made public, and the identities and numbers of those killed remains obscure. But it is clear that the bereaved families and the surviving members of the militia brigade live in silence and worry. These soldiers were not safe even under the previous government and were persecuted for fighting for the interests of another country. In general, Afghan society has been wary of them.
The future of Fatemiyoun fighters and soldiers for Afghanistan’s own armed forces is uncertain. But what the world does know is that life is becoming increasingly difficult for Afghan citizens, and the situation is even worse for people who held positions in the previous government or who put themselves forward to fight a cause — a cause that the Taliban rejects or even condemns.
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