Middle East

Afghan VP Dostum to return after more than a year in exile


Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum is expected to return to Kabul Sunday, more than a year after fleeing the country during an investigation into the rape and torture of a political rival.

The powerful ethnic Uzbek leader and former warlord, who is linked to a catalogue of human rights abuses in Afghanistan, will fly from Turkey to Kabul where he will be welcomed by high-ranking officials at a special ceremony, Afghan officials said.

“At 4:00 pm (1130 GMT) today General Dostum’s flight will land at Kabul international airport,” Jamal Nasir Farahmand, a spokesman for Dostum, told AFP.

Dostum’s return, which has been the subject of much speculation, comes amid violent protests in several provinces across northern Afghanistan — his traditional power base.

Thousands of Dostum’s supporters have taken to the streets in recent weeks, shuttering election and government offices and blocking sections of highways, demanding the release of a pro-government militia leader and calling for Dostum’s return.

Expectations for Dostum’s arrival have done little to quell the unrest, though, with protesters vowing Sunday to continue demonstrating until the burly leader of the Uzbek minority tells them otherwise.

“We don’t trust the government. We will continue our protests unless General Dostum tells us to stop,” Ehsanullah Qowanch, a protest leader in Faryab province, told AFP.

Qowanch also repeated calls for the release of Nezamuddin Qaisari — a district police chief and Dostum’s provincial representative in Faryab — whose arrest earlier this month ignited the protests.


‘Known killer’


Observers say President Ashraf Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun, gave the green light for Dostum to come back to Afghanistan to stabilise the north and secure ethnic Uzbek support ahead of next year’s presidential election, which he is widely expected to contest.

Dostum left Afghanistan in May 2017 after he was accused of organizing the rape and torture of a political rival.

He had denied the allegations and said his departure was for medical check-ups and family reasons.

Ghani described Dostum as a “known killer” in 2009. Yet he chose him to be his running mate in the 2014 presidential election, underlining the at times uncomfortable ethnic realities of Afghan politics.

Presidential spokesman Haroon Chakhansuri said Saturday that Dostum had been “treated” and would resume his duties upon his return.

Seven of Dostum’s bodyguards have been convicted of the sexual assault and illegal imprisonment of Ahmad Ishchi, a former governor of northern Jowzjan province, in 2016.

Dostum allegedly had Ishchi abducted in Jowzjan and then kept him hostage in his private compound for several days, where the captive was said to have been tortured and sodomised.

Chakhansuri deflected questions about whether Dostum would face charges over the incident, saying “the judiciary is an independent body, the government does not interfere in their decisions”.

Dostum is one of several controversial figures that Kabul has sought to reintegrate into mainstream politics since the US-led invasion in 2001.

His heroic status in the north belies the extreme barbarities he is known for.

Dostum, who helped the United States oust the Taliban regime in 2001, allegedly allowed hundreds of Taliban prisoners to be suffocated to death in shipping containers.

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