RFE/RL, February 6, 2008

Prosecutor Suggests 'Some People' Cannot Be Tried

"What is happening in the north is really the growing Balkanization of the country"

By Ron Synovitz

Afghanistan' s attorney-general says criminal charges are pending against Abdul Rashid Dostum -- a senior military adviser to the president and a powerful ethnic Uzbek militia commander who allegedly abducted his former election campaign manager last weekend.

But Attorney General Abdul Jabar Sabit claims that actually bringing Dostum to court will be difficult because it could lead to fresh factional fighting in northern Afghanistan -- where Dostum's militia holds sway. With some of Dostum's supporters threatening to take up arms if he is brought to trial, the case dramatically underscores the absence of the rule of law in those parts of Afghanistan where warlords still reign.

In an exclusive interview, Sabit tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that prosecutors accuse Dostum of charges including kidnapping, breaking and entering, and assault. "These are not political accusations -- it is a criminal case," Sabit says.

He also says that a police investigation determined that on February 2, Dostum and about 50 members of his militia attacked the home of Akbar Bay, Dostum's former election campaign manager, who is also variously described in the Afghan media as a tribal leader and the head of an ethnic Turkic organization. Sabit says they then illegally entered Bay's home, beat him and members of his family, insulted female relatives, and abducted Bay.

But Sabit suggests that Dostum is such a powerful commander in northern Afghanistan that, in the current security environment, he might be above prosecution. "Anyone who commits a criminal act must be brought to justice," Sabit said. "But in reality, I must admit that there will be some difficulties. In this war situation, in many cases, it is difficult for us to implement the law."

"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."
Human Rights Watch, Sep. 27, 2006

Sabit says that "because of the war there is no law, and you cannot implement the law in the south of the country or in many districts -- even in those places where the rule of law does exist, sometimes we cannot enforce the law over some people."

Sign Of The Times

Dostum has changed sides and alliances many times during Afghanistan' s 30 years of war. He has been a key ally of U.S. forces since late 2001 in the fight against the Taliban. Dostum also became an adviser in Afghan President Hamid Karzai's transitional administration after the collapse of the Taliban regime.

After the presidential election of 2004, Karzai kept Dostum in the central government without appointing him as a minister. Instead, Karzai named Dostum as a special aide and gave him the title of "chief of staff to the commander in chief of the armed forces."

That move was generally regarded as an effort to avoid friction ahead of parliamentary elections in September 2005. But it also has helped reduce clashes between Dostum's militia and rival factions in northern Afghanistan.

The current governor of Balkh Province, Atta Mohammad Noor, is among those rivals whose own militia clashed periodically with Dostum's fighters in the struggle to control territory after the Taliban was driven from the north. Noor tells Radio Free Afghanistan that some political factions might try to use the current dispute over the case against Dostum as a pretext for partitioning the country and transforming the Islamic republic into a federation.

"We will not allow anybody to speak on their own as though they represent all of northern Afghanistan. The north is part of Afghanistan," Noor says. "The division of this country is an unattainable goal for those people who try to take advantage of this situation."

'Civil War'

Meanwhile, Dostum's allies and supporters have threatened violence if he is brought to trial.

On February 3, after Afghan Interior Ministry police surrounded Dostum's house in Kabul, Dostum spokesman Mohammad Alem Sayeh rejected the accusations against the militia commander and suggested that "seven or eight" northern provinces could slide into civil war "if anyone touches even one hair on Dostum's head."

An opposition political movement to which Dostum to also has threatened "catastrophic consequences" if the ethnic Uzbek general is put on trial. Sayed Hussain Sancharaki is the spokesman for the United National Front of Afghanistan -- a political group formed in 2005 by factional commanders and politicians who had once fought against the Taliban regime as the former Northern Alliance.

"General Dostum has a high profile among his people and is one of the famous political and military figures of Afghanistan," Sancharaki says. "He is [Karzai's] chief of staff for the armed forces and he is a senior member of the United Front of Afghanistan. It is natural that any kind of action against him will have repercussions. The consequences will be very dangerous -- catastrophic -- for the stability of Afghanistan."

Experts say Dostum is one of several factional militia commanders in northern Afghanistan who have been using the threat of a resurgent Taliban during the past year to get new weapons and more forcefully protect their interests.

"Obviously, what is happening in the north is really the growing Balkanization of the country," Sam Zia-Zarifi, a spokesman for Human Rights Watch (HRW) and a field researcher in Afghanistan who has monitored programs by the United Nations and Afghan government to disarm the factional militias, told RFE/RL recently. "It has been an ongoing trend in Afghanistan for warlords who are ostensibly allied with the government to entrench themselves even more fully."

He added that "a lot of [warlords] are now swollen with the narcotics trade -- profits from the sale of poppy and heroin...[and] have a lot of political clout because many of them have allies in the parliament, if they are not directly members of the parliament."

"The next step," he said, "is to openly flex their military muscle."

Zia-Zarifi said illegal ethnic Tajik and Hazara militias in the north also appear to be hoarding weapons. He concluded that divisions and mistrust between regional commanders and the central government could exacerbate tensions at a time when the security situation already is on a razor's edge.

(Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Hamida Osman contributed to this report from Kabul)

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