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Afghan Vice President In Quiet Government Boycott Over Power Sharing

Abdul Rashid Dostum
Abdul Rashid Dostum

The man known for switching sides in often-treacherous Afghan power-sharing deals is now so unhappy over his lack of influence in the Afghan national unity government that he is boycotting official engagements.

During the past three decades, Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former communist general, remained a permanent fixture in the murky world of Afghan politics. After the 2001 demise of the Taliban, he emerged as a key powerbroker thanks to his sway over an estimated 1 million fellow Uzbek voters in northern Afghanistan.

He helped former President Hamid Karzai to secure a second term in 2009 and joined forces with Ashraf Ghani to become his first vice president and the first in the Afghan line of succession.

Dostum allegedly played a key role in toppling and then preventing his communist boss, Mohammad Najibullah, from leaving the country in 1992 after he agreed to a UN-brokered peace deal. Dostum then alternately allied with and fought against most former anti-Soviet factions in the fratricidal civil war of the 1990s that destroyed the Afghan capital Kabul.

The former warlord has apparently fallen out with Ghani. His media adviser told RFE/RL's Gandhara website that the Afghan leader has not taken Dostum's demands seriously.

Sultan Faizi says the national unity government is reluctant to pass a security plan that Dostum proposed.

"His excellency had several suggestions for forming units inside the government from different security institutions such as the Defense and Interior ministries and the National Directorate of Security [Afghan intelligence] to launch attacks against the enemies of Afghanistan to bring security at least for the people," he said.

But such a request was essentially seen as an effort by Dostum to revive his militia, which played a notorious role in destroying Kabul and tormenting Afghan civilians across the country from 1992 to 1998.

Faizi, however, rejected the notion that his boss wanted to revive his militia.

Faizi says Afghanistan's Turkic ethnic groups, including Uzbeks, are not well represented in government or diplomatic missions.

"During the Bonn conference [in 2001], a percentage of representation was awarded to the Turkic ethnic groups. But our people were never given that much representation. It's not even 1 percent in the government," he said. "Despite voting the current president into power, the Uzbeks, Turkmens, Aymaq, Kyrgyz, and Kazakhs -- who are mostly from northern Afghanistan -- are not fully represented in the government."

Faizi warned that Kabul's reluctance to fulfill Dostum's demands would have negative consequences.

"We fear that people might protest in the streets for their demands to be accepted," he said. “This could affect security in lots of areas, lots of provinces, and lots of cities."

The Afghan presidential press office was reluctant to comment on the issue, but Shah Hussein Mortazawi, a Kabul-based journalist, shed some light on the growing disagreements within the Afghan presidential palace.

He says Ghani wants all security forces to operate under the umbrella of the already-existing regular forces, which mainly consist of Afghan police and the army. "Regarding the special units proposed by Dostum, I believe the same principal applies. The current thinking in the Afghan presidential office is that we should not create alternative forces to our security forces because it would weaken those forces," he added.

In August, Dostum spent some time in Faryab to "lead and motivate" Afghan security forces in the fight against Taliban insurgents. He faced repeated attacks and fought pitched battles in the Ghormach, Almar, and Qaisar districts.

In subsequent months, he made several visits to security forces in northern Afghanistan "to boost the morale" of soldiers.

But in recent weeks he has not been seen in public, and Afghan media reports suggest he has not attended key meetings including those of the Afghan National Security Council, which is tasked with appraising and guiding the country's security policies.

Mortazawi says Dostum also wants to appoint loyalists to key government posts. He says that according to government sources Dostum sent a list of nearly 30 people to the president to be appointed to key security, political, and diplomatic posts in the government.

But he said the president has not appointed anyone, which has further fueled Dostum's resentment.

"The presidential contenders made many promises to those who they called kingmakers and having solid vote banks in order to gain more votes during the elections," he explained. "Unfortunately, this led to high expectations. For example, the ministries of Youth and Sports were promised to Dostum."

Bashir Ahmad Tayanj, spokesman for Dostum's Junbish-e Milli party, agrees. He says Dostum is under tremendous pressure from his supporters who see themselves to be deprived of their due share in the national unity government.

Tayanj says Dostum has not completely cut ties with the government but has not participated in key meetings recently and is instead following up on government business over the telephone.

"If the differences persist and our people continue to feel excluded from power, the consequences will be dangerous for the government, which is already fragile and vulnerable," he said. "The leaders should have the wisdom to avoid such a situation."