Are Afghan “terrorist mercenaries” really going to Azerbaijan to fight Armenia?
Al-Masdar News cited a statement from the Armenian National Security Agency that was carried by RT to report that Yerevan accused Baku of transporting “terrorist mercenaries” from Afghanistan to fight in the Nagorno-Karabakh Continuation War. That dramatic claim hasn’t been confirmed, let alone repeated by any other party at least at the time of this article’s publication, so it’s unlikely to be true. Nevertheless, it’s still important enough to analyse because of the consequences that such an allegation could have irrespective of its veracity. That statement also hints at the ulterior motives that Armenia might have for alleging what it did.
Concerns about foreign militant involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh Continuation War were recently raised by the Russian side following foreign intelligence chief Naryshkin’s claims that fighters from Syria and Libya are already participating in the conflict. Azerbaijan and Turkey deny that this is the case, yet Russia insists that it's so. According to a report from Sputnik on Monday, 1000 militants were sent there from Syria last Friday, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov confirmed that the Russian Foreign Ministry is raising this issue in its contacts with Turkey.
It’s unclear what’s really going on, but one thing that’s for certain is that Russia has yet to allege any Afghan connection to the militant controversy. If there was any credible chance that the Armenian National Security Agency’s allegation was true, then Russia would have presumably addressed it in one way or another in connection to the militant question, but it hasn’t. For this reason, the report shouldn’t be seen as anything other than an information warfare provocation, one which is intended to heighten Russia’s security concerns to the point of possibly prompting it to commence a Syrian-like anti-terrorist intervention in the conflict.
Allegations about the involvement of Afghan fighters (described by the Armenians as “terrorists mercenaries” according to Al-Masdar News) in any conflict are especially symbolic because they’re intended to remind the target audience about the 1980s Afghan jihad. That movement saw the participation of many people from all across the world and directly led to the creation of Al-Qaeda, which later carried out its infamous terrorist attacks against the US on 9/11. Therefore, talking about Afghan participation in the Nagorno-Karabakh Continuation War on Azerbaijan’s side is meant to raise fears about the creation of a new terrorist hotbed.
The innuendo is that another global jihad is in the making, one which could lead to the eventual establishment of an Al-Qaeda-like terrorist group that might one day threaten people far from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Since Armenia is recognised as the first country to ever officially accept Christianity as its state religion, these manipulated optics are meant to reinforce Prime Minister Pashinyan’s recent claims that the Nagorno-Karabakh Continuation War is a “clash of civilizations”. His specific choice of words can be widely interpreted as a euphemism for the supposedly inevitable clash between Christianity and Islam which in reality isn’t inevitable at all.
Taking the Armenian leader’s very dangerous rhetoric into account, it can’t be discounted that his national security agency’s Afghan-related report is intended to generate sympathy for his country across the Western world. Right-wing sentiment is surging across that “civilisational” sphere among many who are already antagonistic towards Islam as it is, so they might be very receptive to the narrative that some of the world’s most notorious jihadists are reportedly fighting against the world’s oldest Christian state. Furthermore, if Armenia’s claims gain traction, then they might influence the course of the very sensitive Afghan peace process.
It should be noted that the Armenian Foreign Minister will be meeting with Mike Pompeo in DC on Friday, during which time it can be expected that he’ll raise his government’s supposed concern about the involvement of Afghan “terrorist mercenaries” in the Nagorno-Karabakh Continuation War. If a US government official bites the bait – perhaps someone in the permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies (“deep state”) opposed to the Trump Administration’s Afghan withdrawal plans or maybe even a politically desperate Trump who’ll do anything to secure more evangelical votes – then this suspicious story might take on a life of its own.