Biography of Abdul Rashid Dostum

By Jonathan N. Jackson / January 4, 2019

Abdul Rashid Dostum is a powerful Afghan politician and former general who has served as the First Vice President of Afghanistan under President Ashraf Ghani since September 29, 2014. He is also the chairman of his own political party, Junbish-e Milli Afghanistan (National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan).

Abdul Rashid Dostum was born in 1954 in Kwaja Du Koh; a city in Afghanistan’s northern province of Jowzjan. He was born to a peasant Uzbek family and was forced to drop out of school at a young age. He started working at a state-owned gas field in Sheberghan in 1970 and enlisted in the Afghan army in that same year. A few months later, Dostum went on to serve in Sheberghan under the auspices of the then Ministry of Interior.

In the early 1980s, Abdul Rashid Dostum put together and commandeered over 20,000 militiamen largely drawn from Jowzjan province. In fact, a majority of these troops and their commanders came from Dostum’s own village.  He left the military after members of the Parchami faction of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPDA) were being purged from the government. He only returned at the beginning of the Soviet-Afghan war. Once back, he commandeered a battalion which was responsible for routing out Mujahideen forces in the region. His success in the war earned him and his battalion a place in the 53rd Infantry Division of the Afghan forces and was directly answerable to then President Najibullah Ahmadzai. He was later appointed as the commander of Unit 374 in Jowzjan where he continued to defend the government against Mujahideen forces. For his efforts in the army, President Najibullah awarded Dostum with the Title “Hero of the Republic of Afghanistan“.

Dostum and his infantry would later become a major force, especially in the fall of Kabul. In April 1992,  he joined hands with opposition commanders Sayed Jafar Naderi and Ahmad Shah Masood and together captured Kabul from President Najibullah’s Government. The forces then successfully garrisoned Maranjan Hill, Bala Hisar fort and Khwaja Rawash Airport in order to defend Kabul against Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Dostum then headed to the northern stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif to become the de facto ruler of an independent region often referred to as the Northern Autonomous Zone. Here, he won support from multiple ethnic communities for his effort in maintaining peace in the region when much of the country was in chaos. In 1994, Dostum changed tune and allied himself with enemy-turned-partner Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in an effort to take over the government, headed by President Burhanuddin Rabbani.

The next year, he sided with the government once again.

In 1996, Dostum, Karim Khalili, and Ahmad Shah Masood came together to fight the rising Taliban group which had already captured Kabul. During this time, he had over 50,000 men, tanks and aircraft support at his disposal. Unluckily, his position in the force was challenged by fellow Uzbek General Abdul Malik Pahlawan who forced Dostum to surrender power and flee to Turkey. This was after Dostum’s alleged involvement in the assassination of General Rasul Pahlawan; Malik’s elder brother and second in command to Dostum. Dostum later came back to regain control of the unit after the failure of a peace deal between General Abdul Malik Pahlawan and the Taliban. Dostum briefly took charge but was again forced to flee to Turkey in 1998.

Dostum came back in May 2001, only months before the US-led campaign to topple the Taliban. On November that same year Dostum and his newfound American allies attacked the Taliban. In a battle dubbed the Siege of Kunduz,, many Taliban soldiers faced defeat and surrendered their weapons a few miles outside the city of Mazar-e-Sharif in Balkh province. Dostum has in the recent past been accused of shouldering the responsibility for the death of 2000 of these Taliban prisoners in December 2001, where a majority died from suffocation.

In March 1, 2005, Dostum was appointed as the Chief of Staff to the Commander of the Armed Forces by President Hamid Karzai.  Dostum also served as the Deputy Defense Minister in Karzai’s government. In the Hamid Karzai administration, Dostum’s supporters regularly clashed with people loyal to Atta Mohammad Noor who battled for greater control of  Mazar-e-Sharif. The feud cooled down after negotiations ended with the two groups coming together.  Noor later became the governor Balkh province and the most powerful figure in northern Afghanistan.

On October 7, 2013, Dostum filed nomination papers as the presidential running mate to Ashraf Ghani. Ghani ran against Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who was being supported by Noor.  Dostum went on to become Afghanistan’s First Vice President after Ghani was given the presidency.

Dostum and controversy are not always too far apart. At a sporting event in November 2016, Dostum caused uproar after he allegedly punched a rival, Ahmad Ischi, and ordered his guards to beat him. In 2017, he was accused of the kidnap and subsequent rape of Ischi with a gun. Although he denies the claim, many believe to avoid prosecution, he went to Turkey under the guise of receiving medical treatment and stayed there in exile.

Dostum returned on July 26, 2018, after likely secret negotiations with Ashraf Ghani. His relationship with Ashraf Ghani has soured over the years. His supporters have accused Ghani of purposely sidelining him. It’s not certain if he will be on the ticket with Ghani for the upcoming presidential elections in 2019.

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