KABUL -- Memorial events marking the second anniversary of Qassem Soleimani's death sparked outrage among those who say he was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Afghans over nearly three decades.
The events, organised by the Iranian embassy in Kabul and its consulates, were larger this year than last year and took place in Kabul, Herat and Balkh provinces.
Before he was killed in a US strike in Baghdad on January 3, 2020, Soleimani masterminded the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force's expansionist agenda in a number of proxy wars throughout the region, including in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Afghanistan.
Afghans perished in Syria for Soleimani
Soleimani founded the Fatemiyoun Division, a militia comprised of mainly Shia Afghans that fights on Tehran's behalf in Syria and elsewhere. The Fatemiyoun's casualties probably number in the thousands, though the Iranian regime does not disclose such statistics.
About 917 Afghan nationals were killed in Syria alone from January 2012 to September 2019, said Washington-based IRGC watcher Ali Alfoneh in February 2020, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He drew on his own database to compile that total.
Commemorating Soleimani's death in Afghanistan insults the thousands of Afghans who lost their lives because of him, said Nazir Ahmad Nazari, a resident of Herat.
"For us Afghans, Qassem Soleimani is a murderer who played a direct role, both in Afghanistan and Syria, in the mass murders of Afghans," he said. "He shed the blood of innocent Afghans for years by supporting terrorist groups in Afghanistan."
During the 2001–2021 war in Afghanistan, Iran added to the Afghan death toll by supplying weapons and training in the conflict.
"It is a shame that memorial celebrations are allowed for Qassem Soleimani in Afghanistan," Nazari said, adding that those who commemorate and mourn his death are just like him -- the enemies of Afghans.
"Soleimani was behind war in the region," said Herat city resident Faisal Elham. "By inflaming factional conflicts, he shed the blood of thousands of innocent people."
Commemorating the death of a dangerous killer is shameful, he added.
"We have not forgotten Iranian land mines and weapons used against Afghans over the past 20 years," Elham said. "Neither have we forgotten the IRGC's efforts under Qassem Soleimani to destroy our dams."
A positive image of a terrorist
The Iranian regime is trying to portray Soleimani positively with the commemorative events and other publicity stunts, civil society activists say.
On some billboards, he is even eulogised as an unknown hero of Afghanistan, like the Unknown Soldier in many countries.
By glorifying Soleimani, the Iranian regime is trying to give the Fatemiyoun Division ideological legitimacy in Afghanistan, said Hasan Hakimi, a civil society activist in Ghor.
The Iranian government wants to legitimise the wars waged by the IRGC and Fatemiyoun in Syria and other countries in order to encourage unemployed Afghan youth to join the Fatemiyoun Division, he said.
"Iran has launched an extensive propaganda campaign to portray Soleimani as a hero in the war against the 'Islamic State in Iraq and Syria' (ISIS) and to cover up his crimes in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan," Hakimi said.
But Afghans will not be swayed, he said.
"Soleimani was a deadly terrorist who oversaw dangerous groups in the region for several years and was involved in shedding the blood of innocent civilians," he added.
Afghans know the killer of their compatriots, said Abdul Karim Sidiqi, a civil society activist in Qala-e-Naw city, Badghis.
No matter how much Tehran glorifies him now, Soleimani was a murderer and a terrorist, Sidiqi said.
"Qassem Soleimani was behind bloody conflicts in the Middle East," he said. "He executed the destructive agendas of the Iranian government in the region, including in Afghanistan."
"Soleimani's death was a major defeat for the Iranian government," Sidiqi said.
The Iranian government killed thousands of Afghans in the name of religious war in Syria, he added.
"Now, Iran has launched a propaganda war to incite the sentiments of youth and the religiously minded against the West."
Grieving those who died in Syria
The pain of the parents who lost their sons in faraway Syria, where Afghanistan had no vital interests, wells up again with every observance of Soleimani's death anniversary, said Elham, the Herat city resident.
Ewaz Ali Hussaini, a resident of Lal Sarjangal district of Ghor whose brother died four years ago in Syria, said the Iranian government deceived his brother and lured him into the war.
"My brother, Ali Reza, was 25 and was working in Iran," he said. "By threatening him and making false promises, the Iranian government sent him to the war in Syria -- from which he never returned."
"After two months in Syria, my brother was killed ... and his body was returned to his house in Tehran," he said. "After staying in Iran for a few months, we had to return to Afghanistan."
"My grieving parents are sick and have been crying over the loss of their son."
The real killer of his brother is Soleimani, said Hussaini, adding that he is reminded of his brother's death every time he sees a picture of the dead general.
By sending thousands of impoverished young Afghans to the battlefields, Soleimani was the most prolific murderer of Afghans, said Zekria Ramesh, a resident of Zaranj, the provincial capital of Nimroz.
"Besides killing thousands of young Afghans in Syria and other regional countries, Soleimani's forces played an important role in the massacre of the Afghan people and security forces through their interference in the past 20 years of war," he said.
"The Iranian government has been forcing Afghan youth for years to take part in these bloody conflicts," he added.
"We witnessed the death of hundreds of our young men in the Syrian war, which had nothing to do with Afghans."