Institute for War & Peace Reporting, February 7, 2007
Friends Fall Out in Northern Afghanistan
A former ally of General Dostum takes him on in a battle for political power in the north.
By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi in Mazar-e-Sharif
Accusations of brutality are nothing new for General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who commanded an Uzbek militia faction throughout years of civil war in Afghanistan. The international watchdog group Human Rights Watch has repeatedly alleged that he is a war criminal.
Dostum has weathered the storm with relative equanimity. Not only has the burly general escaped prosecution, he enjoys the prestige of a top post in President Hamed Karzai's administration as the Afghan army's chief of staff.
Criminal armed forces of Abdul Rashid Dostum fighting in one of residential areas of Kabul in 1993. (RAWA photo)
But now one of Dostum's closest political friends has joined the chorus of voices against him, accusing him of responsibility for killings and other atrocities during the civil war of the early Nineties, and even claiming that he plotted an armed insurrection against the present government.
Akbar Bay, a prominent Uzbek community member, broke with Dostum last month during the inauguration of his new party called the Turkic Islamic Council of Afghanistan. The event took place in the northern province of Jowzjan, which is - not coincidentally - the seat of Dostum's power and prestige.
"I can no longer work with a criminal and killer," Akbar Bay told IWPR. "During his years of dominance, he murdered everyone who he felt was trying to challenge him."
During the decades of war, Dostum's armed militia conducted brutal operations across several Afghan provinces.
Now the former deputy says he intends to mobilise all northern tribes against his former boss.
Akbar Bay himself has a somewhat chequered past. He spent the years of Soviet occupation abroad, and in 1989 he was arrested in the United States and later convicted of drug smuggling and tax evasion. He remained in prison until 2003, when he was released and came back to Afghanistan, where he took a key position in Dostum's party, Junbesh-e-Islami.
"But after a while, when I discovered Dostum's crimes, I realised he had misled people," said Akbar Bay. "He violates the rights of those under his influence.
"That is why I have chosen a different path."
Afghanistan's constitution and the law on parties support the creation of new political organisations and obliges the government to provide them with security.
But when Akbar Bay attempted to open up headquarters in Shiberghan, the main town in Jowzjan province, his office was attacked, the windows smashed and the doors blocked up. Akbar Bay insists thugs from the Junbesh party carried out the raid.
"When Dostum realised that I had influence among the Uzbeks, he tried to wipe me out. But I am not afraid of him," he said.
Dostum is denying any involvement in the attack, but Jowzjan’s chief of police, General Fazeldin Ayar, acknowledged that the damage was done by youths from Junbesh.
"Akbar Bay is right," he told IWPR. "It was young men from Junbesh who attacked the office, broke windows, and set fire to the guest quarters."
Warlords with records of war crimes and serious abuses during Afghanistan's civil war in the 1990s, such as parliamentarians Abdul Rabb al Rasul Sayyaf and Burhanuddin Rabbani, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, and current Vice President Karim Khalili, have been allowed to hold and misuse positions of power, to the dismay of ordinary Afghans.
HRW, Sep. 27, 2006
Dostum allies accuse Akbar Bay of providing false information to the authorities, and staunchly refute any allegations of wrongdoing.
"Nothing he says is true," insisted Kinja Kargar, a Dostum deputy. "It is all just hostile words. He is being used by enemies who are trying to weaken Dostum and the Junbesh party."
Kargar was dismissive of Akbar Bay's attempt to set up a new party. "People here have got Junbesh-e-Islami. They won't tolerate any other party bearing the name of Turkic or Uzbek people," he said.
Not content with bringing up Dostum's war record, Akbar Bay alleges that the general is now intent on destabilising Afghanistan.
"I know that Dostum has hidden thousands of weapons, and is seeking an opportunity to create disturbances again," claimed Akbar Bay. "I can even tell the government where these weapons are."
Kargar denied the existence of hidden arms caches. The Junbesh faction went through the United Nations disarmament programmes, he said, and now has no illegal weapons.
Zamaray Bashiri, a spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry, said the police were unaware of any secret arms depots.
"We need the help of the people," he said. "If anyone knows of the whereabouts of arms, whether held by individuals or groups, they should come to us. Our doors are open."
Many political analysts have dismissed the dispute as a typical Afghan falling-out. Akbar Bay, they say, is disgruntled by losing the power and rewards he was used to receiving from Dostum.
"People gather around warlords in anticipation of money and rewards," said Qayum Babak, a political analyst in Mazar-e-Sharif. "But Dostum's power is waning. He cannot dispense the kind of benefits that he could before."
Babak said that while Dostum's deputies were quick to defend him, even they may change their tune if is in their interests.
"In order to curry favour with another powerful man, they will disclose what they were concealing only yesterday," he said.
Ordinary people in Balkh are similarly jaded by the spectacle.
"Akbar Bay is saying these things against Dostum to gain attention," said Mohammad Qadir, a student at Balkh University. "But if Dostum gives him money or privileges, he will go back to being his friend."
Many Afghans would like to see former strongmen punished for crimes committed during the savage battles that followed the end of communist rule and the capture of Kabul in 1992.
"We support efforts to unveil human rights violators and put them on trial," said Qadir. "We do not care what their ethnic group is, or their political affiliation. We just want to see them punished."
A resident of Sar-e-Pul province, who refused to give his name, agreed with the Akbar Bay's assessment of Dostum.
"During the civil war, Dostum's militia took control of our village after a week of fighting," he said. "Those who stayed behind and survived the battle were all killed by Dostum's men. We fled, but when we came back we found that all that remained of our home was four walls. They had stolen all the rest."
Dostum may deserve to be prosecuted, added the man, "but we have given up hope that he and others will be punished".
Nadir Nadiri, spokesperson for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, told IWPR, "I can neither confirm nor deny the allegations regarding crimes against humanity, because we do not have any proof of it."
The commission is trying to substantiate the accusations, he said.
"We are initiating a programme to examine all alleged crimes, but we cannot comment until the process is completed," he said.
If a plan by the lower house of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, makes its way into law, such moves to investigate alleged war crimes will come to nothing.
In a resolution issued on January 31, legislators said that, in the interests of national reconciliation, those involved in past hostilities - including Communist-era leaders and possibly the Taliban, too - would not face prosecution.
The move has had a negative reaction, in a society where many want to see accountability as well as reconciliation after decades of violence. The Wolesi Jirga resolution faces a number of hurdles - it must be approved by the legislature's upper chamber and by President Karzai before it becomes law.
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