Brutal Afghan-Uzbek leader set for Kabul return

Brutal Uzbek leader and Afghan vice-president set for Kabul return
3 min read
22 July, 2018
Ethnic Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum has been in self-imposed exile from Afghanistan since last year, when he was accused of being behind the rape and torture of a rival.
Dostum has been accused of a number of war crimes [Getty]

Controversial Afghanistan's Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum is due to return to Kabul, after fleeing the country when he was linked to the rape and torture of a political opponent. 

Dostum is a powerful ethnic Uzbek leader and former warlord, who has been accused of a long list of war crimes.

He will return to Kabul from Kabul on Sunday and is expected to be greeted by high-ranking officials at a special ceremony, Afghan officials said.

"At 4pm (11:30am GMT) today General Dostum's flight will land at Kabul international airport," Jamal Nasir Farahmand, a spokesman for Dostum, told AFP. 

Dostum comes at a time of renewed violence in Afghanistan, particularly in the north of the country, his traditional power base.

Dostum's supporters have held intense protests in recent weeks, shuttering election and government offices and blocking roads demanding his return.

Protesters have vowed to continue these protests until the Uzbek minority leader 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

He 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 started the protests.

In an effort to quell the protests and get the support of ethnic Uzbeks in next year's presidential elections, observers said that President Ashraf Ghani agreed to release Dostum.

The ethnic Uzbek leader fled Afghanistan last May after being accused of organising the rape and torture of a political rival. 

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

Ghani once described Dostum as a "known killer", but chose him to be his running mate in the 2014 presidential election.

Presidential spokesman Haroon Chakhansuri said Saturday that Dostum had been "treated" and would resume his duties as vice-president when he returns to Afghanistan. 

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.

There he was allegedly repeatedly tortured and sodomised.

Chakhansuri deflected questions about whether Dostum would face charges over the incident.

"The judiciary is an independent body, the government does not interfere in their decisions," he said.

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

Dostum allegedly allowed hundreds of Taliban prisoners to be suffocated to death in shipping containers following the US-led overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001.