Abdul Rashid Dostum

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Abdul Rashid Dostum (1954 (1955?)-) is an Afghan warlord of Uzbek ethnicity, whose strength is centered on Mazar-e-Sharif. Like many Afghan leaders, has frequently shifted alliances. He was in exile in Turkey for several months, [1] but returned, in early 2010, as Chief of Staff of the Afghan Army. As a condition of his return, he brought back tens of thousands of Uzbeks, who joined the coalition of President Hamid Karzai. Uzbeks were prominent in the Northern Alliance and make up approximately 10 percent of the Afghan population.[2]

Early life

Born to a poor family, he worked on farms, and as a plumber, until he joined the Afghan army in 1978, where he rose rapidly under the Soviet-friendly government. He commanded an armored force that protected the Soviet northern supply route, [3]

He supported the Gorbachev-era Communist reforms in Afghanistan and was allied with the government of President Mohammed Najibullah to defend the communist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan against the U.S. and Pakistani-backed mujahedin. [4]

He joined the mudhahedin as Najibullah fell, joining with Ahmed Shah Massoud to capture Kabul. He briefly joined the mujahideen government of Burhanuddin Rabbani, then moved into an alliance with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. They attacked Kabul in 1994, against the government of Rabbani and Massoud. The forces he commanded in Kabul in the mid-1990s were accused of atrocities against civilians and extensively looted the capital. [4]

Taliban period

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 prospered, and was unique in not having been shelled.

General Dostum grew rich. Even for Afghanistan, he was flexible about loyalties: in 1995, he was on the payroll of both Iran and Pakistan. While he was brutal with those who offended him, crushing one deserter under a tank, but ran an efficient administration with he fairly liberal social conditions in his area of influence. He encouraged women to live and work freely; allowed music, sports, alcohol, and allows for people of other religions; and operated Balkh University, the only one in the country. [5]

It is unclear if he directly participated in the operations of the drug trade, but his party took a share of poppy farm revenues. [6] He fled Mazar-e-Sharif on May 19, 1997, after his deputy, Abdul Malik, Dostum’s rival and current leader of Afghanistan Liberation Party, worked with the Taliban to drive him out. [7] The Taliban moved into the city. They tried to disarm Hazara troops on May 28, who revolted, and then were joined by a mass uprising. Malik organized the rebellion and drove the Taliban back.

Kunduz and Dasht-I-Leili

Dostum returned in September. All sides killed prisoners.[8] In particular, however, 8,000 Taliban surrendered at Kunduz. Amir Jhan, apparently accepted as a negotiator by both sides, said that after the surrender, he counted only 3,015. [9]

The Dasht-i-Leili massacre took place in 1997, and involved Dostum's followers, although its timing with respect to his flight is unclear. [10]Physicians for Human Rights accused him with interfering with the graves and war crimes investigation in November 2001. [11]

With new funding from the Pakistanis and Saudis, the Taliban counterattacked in July 1998, first taking Mainama capturing Dostum's headquarters at Shiberghan on August 1. Again, he fled, first to Uzbekistan and then to Turkey. Some of Dostum's commanders took bribes, and gave the Taliban clear access to Hazaras in Mazar-e-Sharif. The Taliban killed most of the Hazara combat force, and then killed and detained civilian Hazaras. In retaliation for the 1997 massacre, they took containers of prisoners to the Dasht-i-Leili desert to suffocate.[12]

Return to the Northern Alliance

He returned in 2000 to join the Northern Alliance, seeking to avenge himself on the Taliban, and was one of the three major subcommanders of the in the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, during the major combat phase. As the leader of the second largest party, Junbish-e Melli, he directed the campaign to recapture his old stronghold of Mazar-e-Sharif, reestablishing his fiefdom.

In November of 2002, the United Nations began an investigation of alleged human rights abuses by Dostum, as a result of the Battle of Kunduz. Witnesses claimed that Dostum jailed and tortured witnesses to prevent them from testifying in a war crimes case.

Northern Zone

Karzai had appointed him deputy defense minister in 2002 and 2003, but he was rarely in Kabul, continuing to fight for the North. To bring him back, Karzai appointed him as a special adviser on security and military affairs, with the role of advising on security in the north. On May 20, 2003, Dostum signed an agreement to no longer serve as Karzai's special envoy for the northern regions. [13]

Current role

In March 2005, Karzai named him to a ceremonial post as Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Afghan National Army, again to take him away from power in the North. In February 2008, Dostum was suspended on charges that he abducted a rival, Akbar Bai, an ethnic Turkmen and former member his party; police surrounded his home. [14]

It was reported that he was flown to Turkey, as part of a special operation arranged by the Turkish government, to avoid scandal over the impending investigations into his involvement in the kidnapping and beating of political rival [15] Akbar Bey. Bey had tried to set up a rival Uzbek party. [2]

He did not register as a presidential candidate in the upcoming 2009 election.[16]

His return probably strengthens Karzai, and stabilizes the Uzbek north.[2]


  1. Patrick Cockburn (May 11, 2009), "The warlords casting a shadow over Afghanistan", Independent (U.K.)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Brian Glyn Williams (4 February 2010), "In Dostum’s Debt", Foreign Policy (magazine)
  3. Ahmed Rashid (2000), Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, Yale University Press, ISBN 0300089023, pp. 55-57
  4. 4.0 4.1 Abdul Rashid Dostum, Globalsecurity
  5. Rashid 2000, pp. 56-57
  6. Svante E. Cornell (February 2006), "[http://www.silkroadstudies.org/new/docs/CEF/Quarterly/February_2006/Svante_Cornell.pdf The Narcotics Threat in Greater Central Asia: From Crime-Terror Nexus to State Infiltration?]", The China and Eurasia Forum Quarterly
  7. Regional Command North, International Institute for the Study of War, April 15, 2009
  8. Rashid 2000, p. 62
  9. Michelle Goldberg, "Were U.S. troops in Afghanistan complicit in a massacre?", Salon.com
  10. Luke Harding (September 14, 2002), "Afghan massacre haunts Pentagon", Guardian (U.K.)
  11. PHR Calls for Probe into Removal of Mass Grave in Afghanistan, Physicians for Human Rights, December 12, 2008
  12. Rashid 2000, pp. 73-74
  13. Amin Tarzi (August 21, 2006), "Afghanistan: Government Turns Its Sights On Northern Warlords", Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
  14. Abdul Waheed Wafa (February 4, 2008), "Former Warlord in Standoff With Police at Kabul Home", New York Times
  15. Saban Kardas (December 8, 2008), "Dostum Says He Is Not in Exile in Turkey and Remains a Potent Force in Afghanistan", Eurasia Daily Monitor, Jamestown Foundation
  16. Carlotta Gall and Abdul Waheed Wafa (May 9, 2009), "Karzai’s Ex-Allies Vie for Afghan Presidency", New York Times