Small Wars Journal

‘A Coalition of Killers’: The ex-Warlords Promising Afghanistan’s ‘Salvation’

‘A Coalition of Killers’: The ex-Warlords Promising Afghanistan’s ‘Salvation’ by Max Bearak - Washington Post

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani likes to say that he has the world’s most difficult job, and no one doubts that he is at least in the running. But amid the plethora of problems he faces, it might come as a surprise that his vice president, whom he selected, is one of the biggest.

Then again, Abdurrashid Dostum’s name is synonymous with volatility and brutality. For decades, the former plumber, wrestler and oil refinery worker has led northern Afghanistan’s ethnic Uzbeks, first as a ruthless — and reckless — militia commander, now as a politician. The U.S. State Department, in cables released by WikiLeaks, once called Dostum a “quintessential warlord,” and Ghani himself termed him a “known killer.”

That didn’t stop Ghani from making a deal with him. In the run-up to last year’s presidential elections, Dostum promised and delivered Ghani the crucial Uzbek vote, propelling the unlikely duo to a narrow victory. But what was convenient a year ago is now quite the opposite. Instead of helping Ghani unite the country, Dostum has revived a sense of indignation toward Afghanistan’s ethnic Pashtun majority, and cobbled together an insurrection in the multiethnic north.

Ghani and Dostum’s fragile compact began to unravel when the vice president was accused last December of ordering an elderly political rival to be manhandled and sodomized with a Kalashnikov. It was the second time he had been charged with a similar offense. After the first instance in 2008, Dostum went into a long exile at his lavish home in Turkey. Since refusing to cooperate with the attorney general in May, he has been out of Afghanistan, mostly in Turkey again.

Dostum claims the charges are a form of blackmail, aimed at stripping him of his authority. His followers contend that Ghani used Dostum for votes and is consolidating power into a cabal of ethnic Pashtuns. They say the government neglects and even encourages the deterioration of security in the minority-dominated areas in the north where the Taliban and the Islamic State’s regional affiliate have wrested control of numerous districts and launched a string of suicide bombings and kidnappings…

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