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Taliban against Dostum: This time its personal…

July 21, 2012

By Tim Foxley


Summary: The Taliban call for Afghan warlord Dostum to be punished for war crimes.  Their motive is unclear: they may genuinely fear a rival for power in northern Afghanistan post-2014.  They may also be reaching out with possible conditions for talks…

The Taliban have devoted a specific announcement on their website to the subject of ethnic Uzbek former/current warlord, Abdul Rashid Dostum, describing him as a war criminal and calling for him to be punished as such.  The statement specifically cites the shelling of Kabul in the 1990s as one of Dostum’s crimes, the killing of many Taliban prisoners at Dostum’s Qala Jangi prison near Mazar-e Sharif (see here) and the alleged execution of other Taliban prisoners locked in lorry containers through dehydration and shooting around the same time (late 2001 when the Taliban collapsed in the north, shortly before collapsing across the country).

Every member of our exasperated nation knows Dostam as a despotic, cruel, tyrant, cannibal, man-killer and the murderer of Afghans… He is the ruthless beast who was heading the special barbaric militia, who was internationally well known for their robbery, looting and massacre.

The statement pays respects to “the great Uzbek nation” – perhaps meaning ethnic Uzbek Afghans in northern Afghanistan, whom Dostum presents himself as leader of, rather than the nation of Uzbekistan itself, across Afghanistan’s border to the north, which has played a fairly limited role, good or bad, in Afghanistan’s years since the Soviet invasion:

The Afghan nation knows the Uzbeks as a brave, Muslim and Mujahid nationality. Specially the Islamic Emirate appreciates and respects their sacrifices.

The Taliban call for Dostum to be brought to justice:

We ask the honorable and courageous national figures, civic societies, human rights organizations and the regional governments to assist us in bringing this war criminal to justice so that on one hand the way is paved for overall peace and stability in the beloved homeland and on the other hand it should be a lesson or warning for other criminals and they should be discouraged to vex their masses. To bring this violator of human right will not only be a great step towards the insurance of social justice but it will also revive the expectations and desires of our oppressed nation and they will be able to breathe in comfort.

Analysis and Outlook

Dostum has been in the Afghan news recently – rumours that he has been meddling with gas and mineral exploitation rights in the north.  It is true he is technically some kind of “Chief of Staff” in the Afghan National Security Forces (although a few years back I heard Defence Minister Wardak describe it as a “symbolic” appointment rather than a real post).  Dostum is definitely no friend of the Taliban (and vice versa) and it is actually difficult to disagree with many of the Taliban charges.  But why make these charges now?  As with many of the Taliban statements, there is clearly some interesting thinking going on, but I don’t quite know what it means.  The Taliban very rarely make such a specific statement about an Afghan figure.  I have a few tentative thoughts as to why this might be going on.

The Taliban may perceive that Dostum is returning to his northern stamping ground in strength in some capacity – political or military.  This might be worrying them.  In the context perhaps of international forces pulling out, the prospects of anti-Taliban militias reorganising, re-arming and fronted by a very recognisably anti-Taliban figurehead would not, from their perspective, be good for the Taliban’s military or political prospects, post-2014.  Perhaps this is why the statement appears very careful to distinguish between Dostum (bad) and ethnic Afghan Uzbeks (good).   Dostum has also been making claims lately that the Taliban were establishing themselves strongly in northern Afghanistan – shortly to be followed by requests for weapons, money and air support directed at the Afghan government or international benefactors (see my piece here, which suggests that some US politicians at least still cling to the idea that Dostum and other similar warlords can be the anti-Taliban bulwark that the country needs).

There were suggestions that Dostum’s alleged meddling in mineral rights might led to investigation and prosecution  (see this) by the government.  Perhaps the Taliban see this as a “window of opportunity” to weigh in with their perspective as well in the hope of influencing a Dostum fall from grace (and perhaps his retreat again to Turkey).

The last paragraph of the Taliban statement is perhaps most interesting.  They appear to be reaching out to many audiences, (“honorable and courageous national figures, civic societies, human rights organizations and the regional governments”) calling for help to bring Dostum to justice.  They suggest that this might pave the way for “overall peace and stability”.  The Taliban are not known for the ability and interest in reaching out to the sort of groups they describe here.  I wonder if this is in some way another small signal from the Taliban that there are some conditions (perhaps “confidence building measures” would be too strong here) that they would like to see in place in order to facilitate dialogue?

“To bring this violator of human right will not only be a great step towards the insurance of social justice but it will also revive the expectations and desires of our oppressed nation and they will be able to breathe in comfort.”

I think this is potentially significant, but I don’t know why.  Anyone got any thoughts?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 21, 2012 11:59 pm

    I’d say it’s most significant because it’s a public, VERY specific and most unsubtle condition to (maybe) playing nice.

    • July 22, 2012 12:40 am

      Hi Tony and thanks. Yes, not quite sure what is driving this one – is it because they are feeling under pressure in some way or feeling confident and pushy…?


  1. Taliban: Time for Dostum to face a war crimes trial « Blog

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