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Abdul Rashid Dostum

Abdul Rashid DostumGeneral Abdul Rashid Dostum (born 1954), a leader of Afghanistan's minority Uzbek community, is a controversial figure who has often changed sides in Afghanistan's complex web of shifting alliances. General Dostam was a ruthless Northern Alliance warlord with a reputation as a serial betrayer, having allied himself with almost every Afghan leader since 1979. The forces he commanded in Kabul in the mid-1990s were accused of atrocities against civilians and extensively looted the capital. It is claimed that during the civil war in the 1990s he financed his army through opium trading. The ethnic Uzbek leader, who was a candidate in the country's 2004 election, is widely reported to be at least partly responsible for the alleged massacre of some 2,000 Taliban prisoners after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and a cover-up of the deaths.

He began as a Communist union boss in the 1970s until he formed an Uzbek militia. By the mid-1980s, he was in command of a 20,000-strong militia controlling the northern provinces of Afghanistan. He supported the Gorbachev-era Communist reforms in Afghanistan and was allied with the government of President Najibullah to defend the communist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan against the United States-backed mujahedin in the 1980s.

By the end of Najibullah's rule in early 1992, Dostum changed sides again, this time to fight with the mujahedeen by allying with Ahmed Shah Massoud. Together, they captured Kabul, the Afghan capital. According to Amnesty International, before the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan fell in 1992, then-President Najibullah had agreed to a UN-brokered transfer of power to a transitional government that hopefully would return law and order to the troubled country. Yet "[d]ays after the fall of President Najibullah's government, old hostilities between the Mujahideen [mujahidin] groups erupted into violent clashes...between on the one side... Hezb-e Islami ([Gulbuddin] Hekmatyar)" and on the other side "the combined forces of Shura-e Nazar (Supervisory Council of the North) and Jamiat-e Islami under the command of Ahmad Shah Masood, supported by the militia of General Dostum" (AI 29 Nov 1995). The latter grouping of forces was known as the United Front or Northern Alliance.

During the 1992 siege of Kabul, Dostum's mounted militia from Jowzjan province, who had previously fought against the mojahedin without mercy, fell upon the civilian population in Kabul, leaving many dead in their wake. The factions set up roadblocks every 100 meters, dividing the city into a mosaic of conflicting territories and embarking on a spree of looting, rape and summary execution against their ethnic rivals.

He briefly joined the mujahideen government of Burhanuddin Rabbani before defecting again, even briefly entering into an alliance with the Islamist forces of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. In 1994, they once more laid siege on Kabul, this time against the government of Burhanuddin Rabbani and Massoud.

In 1996, following the rise of the Taliban and their capture of Herat and Kabul, Dostum realigned himself with Rabbani against the Taliban. Along with General Mohammed Fahim and Ismail Khan, Dostum was one of three factional leaders that comprised the Northern Alliance. While much of the rest of Afghanistan was in ruins, his stronghold of Mazar-e-Sharif - a city of around two million people - was thriving.General Dostum grew rich, but his rule was harsh. He is reported to have frequently ordered public executions of criminals, who were usually crushed to death under tanks.

At the height of his power in 1997 - at the age of 43 - he controlled a kind of mini-state in northern Afghanistan. The Taliban's capture of Mr. Dostum's fortress and airfield in Mazar-e-Sharif in 1997 forced him into exile in Uzbekistan and Iran. In 1998, he fled to Turkey. He returned in 2000 to join the Northern Alliance, seeking to avenge himself on the Taliban. General Abdul Rashid Dostam, along with General Mohammed Fahim and Ismail Khan, was one of three factional leaders that comprised the Northern Alliance. General Dostam is a controversial figure who often changed sides in Afghanistan's complex web of shifting alliances, and was the leader of the second largest party in the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance.

He found his opportunity in 2001, when he helped drive the Taliban from power on the heels of a U.S.-led bombing campaign. The leader of the second largest party in the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, General Dostum directed the campaign to recapture Mazar-e-Sharif - the town he once ruled. Dostum then consolidated his power base in the north, strengthening his hold on an area which covered six provinces with a population of around five million.

In 2001, Dostam returned from exile on the heels of a U.S.-led bombing campaign that drove the Taliban from power. Since then, he ran parts of the country's north as his own fiefdom, nominally serving as a deputy defense minister in the national government in Kabul but operating almost totally independent of the government.

Dostum was implicated in the fall 2001 deaths of hundreds of prisoners who were loaded into containers, shipped across the country, and suffocated along the way. Those who survived the trip claim they were starved and tortured by Dostum's men in the prison compound where they were held for over two years. In November of 2002 the United Nations began an investigation of alleged human rights abuses by Dostum. Witnesses claimed that Dostum jailed and tortured witnesses to prevent them from testifying in a war crimes case. Dostum is also under suspicion for the events of the Dasht-i-Leili massacre.

Karzai appointed him as a special adviser on security and military affairs, with effective control over security affairs in the northern Afghan provinces of Balkh, Jowzjan, Sar-e Pol, Samangan, and Faryab. A UN-backed security commission in Mazar-e-Sharif successfully secured a truce between fighting factions, the latest success in easing tensions between soldiers loyal to warlords Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Mohammad. In March of 2003, Dostum established a North Zone of Afghanistan, against the wishes of interim president Hamid Karzai. On May 20, 2003, Dostum signed an agreement to no longer serve as Karzai's special envoy for the northern regions. Forces loyal to Dostum continue to clash with forces loyal to Tajik General Atta Mohammed. Within his areas of control, Dostum encouraged women to live and work freely, as well as music, sports, alcohol, and allowed for people of other religions.

A government program to disarm 100,000 militia personnel in 2003 and 2004 resulted in disarming an estimated 11,000 by mid-2004. Abdul Rashid Dostum (who was also deputy defense minister) and Ismail Khan, who had been governor of Herat Province, had been particularly intransigent warlords. Local fighting also has persisted over land resettlement questions.

On 18 February 2008, Attorney General Sabit announced that the government had suspended General Abdul Rashid Dostum as Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Afghan Army pending his cooperation with the investigation into the 02 February 2008 abduction of his political rival Turkmen leader Akbar Bay, and threatened to arrest him if he failed to cooperate. Karzai said he was prepared to risk the unrest in the North that Dostum threatened would follow any action against him. By October 2008 Turkish authorities had agreed to remove former Dostum from the Afghan political scene by sending him to Turkey prior to next year's elections.

The Junbesh party congress, held 17-19 June 2008 in Kabul after more than a year of dithering and political maneuvering, waxed strongly anti-Karzai and reaffirmed General Dostum's control of the Uzbek political machine. During the three-day event, speakers criticized Karzai's perceived negative impact on Afghanistan and fanned Uzbeks' concern that the President is biased against them. Dostum proxy Sayed Norullah was elected party president. Norullah's election ended more than a year of efforts by reformers to wrest party control from its founder.

Dostum apparently reconciled with adversary Akbar Bai 26 October 2008, opening the door for his return to public life and jeopardizing efforts to reform his Junbesh-e-Milli party and lock the notorious Uzbek warlord out of Afghan politics. After several months of house arrest following a violent altercation with Bai, Dostum directed his loyalists to press Karzai to bring his punishment to an end with the staged reconciliation.

On November 02, 2009 the U.S. State Department expressed serious concern about the return to Afghanistan of exiled warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum. The ethnic-Uzbek leader, accused of involvement in war crimes in Afghanistan, returned home to support the re-election campaign of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The Obama administration says it counseled the Karzai government against allowing the return of General Dostum, whose reputation threatens to cast a pall over the country's critical election process to which the United States has lent heavy support. The controversial but still powerful Afghan political figure flew home from Turkey and immediately lent support to President Karzai, which could be critical in the multi-candidate presidential race.

In 2012 General Abdul Rashid Dostum remained Afghanistans most powerful warlord, living in Kabul, head of the Uzbek tribe, unofficial ruler of the north, and, as the governments chief of staff, commander of an army of over 25,000 men. Dostum has invested millions in setting up TV and radio stations, websites, and even hiring spin doctors to manage his Twitter account and Facebook pages.

Batur Dostum, son of Abdul Rashid Dostum, has returned from his Turkish schooling to set upof all thingsthe Dostum Foundation. Batur, 25, established a foundation in his powerful fathers name, which provides charity, emergency aid, as well as cultural and educational programs. The Dostum Foundation is an effort not only to soften the public perception of General Dostum.

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Page last modified: 21-08-2012 12:37:49 ZULU