The return of Abdul Rashid Dostum

July 28, 2018 06:43 pm | Updated 06:45 pm IST

Afghan Vice-President Abdul Rashid Dostum arriving at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on July 22.

Afghan Vice-President Abdul Rashid Dostum arriving at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on July 22.

Afghan Vice-President Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum arrived in Kabul last Sunday, after weeks of widespread protests in the country’s north, his traditional bastion, demanding that the government allow the self-exiled leader to return. Gen. Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek veteran of Afghanistan’s wars and politics, left the country last year amid allegations of sexual abuse and torture.

Arriving in an unmarked chartered plane, the Vice-President was received by a huge crowd of supporters as well as several high-ranking Afghan officials, including Second Vice-President Sarwar Danish. A few minutes after his convoy left the airport, a suicide bomber on foot detonated himself at its main gate, killing at least 14 civilians.

The Islamic State claimed responsibly for the attack, stating that Gen. Dostum was their primary target.

Undeterred by the explosion, hundreds of Gen. Dostum’s supporters and members of his Junbish-i-Milli Islami party gathered in Kabul to hear him deliver his first speech in over a year at the Sedarat Palace — the Vice-President’s office. He asked his supporters to end the protests in the north and to reopen the trade routes. “I cannot express how happy I am that our dear leader is back. His return means the end of protests,” said 27-year-old Humaira Mohammadi, a deputy leader of the Junbish’s youth wing from Baghlan province.

Gen. Dostum also promised to his supporters that he would take up the arrest of Nizamuddin Qaisari, a loyalist militia leader, with the President. “Our leader has told all loyalists to not attack government properties and to reopen the trade passage. They will obey him,” said Ms. Mohammadi.

Last month, violent protests had erupted across several provinces in northern Afghanistan, following the government’s crackdown on militiamen. Mr. Qaisari was among those arrested which triggered a strong reaction from the Junbish party that saw this as an attempt by the government to weaken the north. As the protests escalated, their demands also rose: they wanted not just the release of Mr. Qaisari, but also the return of their leader Gen. Dostum. Yunus Tugra, an adviser to the Vice-President, credited the eventual return of Gen. Dostum to the protests.

Legal proceedings

However, concerns over the legal proceedings of the accusations made by Gen. Dostum’s former ally Ahmad Ishchi continue to loom over the the controversial Vice-President. He was accused of beating and ordering sexual abuse on Mr. Ishchi in 2017. The following investigations and attempts to arrest Gen. Dostum and his guards created a public furore, forcing the Vice-President to flee the country on the pretext of seeking medical care. He spent nearly 14 months in Turkey, while those close to him accused the government of conspiring to keep him out of the country.

It remains unclear if Gen. Dostum will be charged now. A few days before his return, President Ashraf Ghani refused to share details about the legal process. “The return issue of [Gen.] Dostum is under deliberation... I have talked with the Attorney-General because it is a legal issue, more information in this regard would be shared later with you,” he told the local media.

Nevertheless , Gen. Dostum’s supporters’ loyalty remains unwavering. “These are just lies to discredit him,” said Kabir Ghiasey, a supporter from the northern province of Faryab. Dismissing Mr. Ishchi’s allegations, he added: “Gen. Dostum is an honourable leader and most of us in the north follow him.”

Ruchi Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Kabul

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