In his first public appearance in weeks, Afghanistan's first vice president, Abdul Rashid Dostum, says he is still working as the first deputy to the country's president.
"Some people say General Dostum has left the government or is staying away from its business," he told supporters on February 4, referring to himself in the characteristic third person. "How I can I abandon this government or become estranged from its business when I endured hardships and played a central role in its formation?"
Dostum added that he will continue to serve as the first vice president. "But I have my own views," he said, hinting at differences on which he did not elaborate.
The pronouncement comes days after his official and party spokesmen said the former communist general and warlord was staying away from official business over his lack of influence in Afghanistan's national unity government.
In recent interviews, Dostum's media adviser, Sultan Faizi, and Bashir Ahmad Tayanj, spokesman for his Junbish-e Milli party, indicated their leader was unhappy over President Ashraf Ghani's reluctance to accept his proposal to form special units to combat the Taliban and the number of his supporters in key government posts.
"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," Tayanj told RFE/RL's Gandhara website. "The leaders should have the wisdom to avoid such a situation."
Ghani's administration seems to have acted on such advice. Observers in Kabul speculate that Dostum’s speech might be quietly encouraged by Turkey. Ankara is seen as retaining some influence over Dostum, who is the most influential figure among Uzbeks and other Afghan Turkic ethnic groups. Ghani’s key ally and Afghanistan's powerful national security adviser Hanif Atmar is currently touring Ankara on an official visit.
Dostum, too, indicated that while he might have reconciled with the national unity government for now, he expects a greater share of power.
"As the first vice president of Afghanistan, I must acknowledge your complaints that we failed to do important things, which led me to stay away [from government business] to some extent," he told supporters. "People are no longer willing to believe our words; they want to want to see action."
During the past three decades, Dostum, 60, has emerged as a major powerbroker. His influence over an estimated 1 million fellow Uzbek voters in northern Afghanistan was instrumental in helping former President Hamid Karzai win a second term in 2009.
Dostum teamed up with Ghani in 2014 and became the first in line to succeed him after a power-sharing deal helped the national unity administration succeed Karzai.
Abubakar Siddique wrote the story based on Nasim Shafaq's reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan. Mustafa Sarwar also contributed reporting.