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Gandhara Podcast: Dostum, Afghanistan’s Quintessential Strongman

FILE: Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum (L) walks at his headquarters in Sheberghan, capital of northern Jowzjan province in July 2015.
FILE: Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum (L) walks at his headquarters in Sheberghan, capital of northern Jowzjan province in July 2015.

For over three decades, current Afghan First Vice President General Abdul Rashid Dostum has been a fixture on the Afghan political and military scene. In the 1980s, he rose through the ranks to become one of the most effective and daring pro-communist generals. During the initial years of the civil war following the collapse of the communist regime in 1992, Dostum carved out a fiefdom in northern Afghanistan while fighting with and against the various factions vying for power in the capital, Kabul.

Dostum’s military prowess helped his return to Afghanistan in 2001, when he joined the U.S.-led military alliance against the Taliban. His military role, similar to leaders of various Afghan armed factions, is shadowed by accusations of serious abuses and human rights violations.

By donning a suite and reorganizing his Junish-e Milli Islami Afghanistan party, Dostum turned into a major powerbroker in Afghanistan’s current political system. His solid vote bank among the country’s Turkic minority, predominantly fellow Uzbeks, finally propelled him to become the first vice president in 2014.

Now Dostum is a heartbeat away from following President Ashraf Ghani as Afghanistan’s leader, and his current role has not been without controversy. The two share a complicated, and often rocky, alliance and working relationship. The Afghan attorney general’s office is investigating accusations that Dostum tortured a political rival. His frequent expeditions into northern Afghanistan to ostensibly fight the Taliban and the Islamic State militants have raised allegations of abuse at the hands of local militias loyal to him.

To discuss the many facets of Dostum, we turned to Patricia Gossman, a senior Human Rights Watch researcher who has probed grave abuses in Afghanistan. From Canada, Dostum’s former political adviser Yaqub Rahmaty joined us. In Kabul, journalist Sultan Faizi contributed useful insight into the current goings on in the Afghan corridors of power. Faizi has worked as a media adviser to the vice president’s office. I pitched in from Prague, and my colleague and RFE/RL’s Media Relations Manager Muhammad Tahir moderated the discussion from our broadcast studios in Washington.

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Gandhara Podcast: Afghanistan’s Quintessential Strongman
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The views expressed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.