Afghanistan’s First Vice President earns applause and gratitude for battling the Taliban in the North. But his triumph may be short-lived.
First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum is the man of the hour; fresh from his much-publicized battles in Afghanistan’s North last week, he was hailed as a national hero. Facebook and Twitter exploded with praise for the burly ex-commander.
Dostum, who earned a reputation as a fearsome fighter during the civil war and the battle with the Taliban that followed, and is even now referred to more commonly by his old military title of General. He left for Faryab province in early August, vowing to clear the area of the Taliban. Just four weeks later he was back, boasting of his achievements and saying that Faryab and Sar-e-Pul were now secure.
Certainly many residents of Faryab were grateful for the respite.
“Insurgents were setting people’s houses on fire,” said Aaq Mohammad, a member of the Faryab Provincial Council. “They were beheading children and committing hundreds of crimes. But with this new operation hope returned to people’s lives. There is no fear. Now people are happy and have returned to their lives. The government must not abandon them.”
There were reports that Dostum’s men, rather than a disciplined fighting force, were engaged in criminal activity directed at the local population.
“After Dostum secured our area, the militias looted our homes and stole our motorcycles,” a resident of Faryab’s Qaiser district told Radio Liberty. “Can’t the Afghan vice president control his own forces?”
Dostum has angrily denied these reports, and has hinted that Pakistan is behind them.
“Those who accuse me … are ISI agents who say whatever Pakistan tells them,” he told the media, referring to Pakistan’s intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence. “I will complain to the NSC (National Security Council) and ask them to prosecute such people.”
Noor Mohammad Sirat, a civil activist and resident of Maimana city, told Paiwandgah that the rumors of misconduct were baseless.
“General Dostum’s forces have not harmed any people or tribe, “ he said. “They just helped local residents to get rid of the Taliban.”
But not for long.
Within days of Dostum’s exit from Faryab the Taliban were back, and taking vengeance on Dostum’s militias, at least 22 of whom were killed in a Taliban ambush.
Local residents confirm that the situation is worsening, but they place the blame, not on their hero, but on the national government.
“Since General Dostum left Faryab the situation is worsening,” said Tofan Kohi, a resident of Faryab. “The Taliban are back and we want the government to maintain the security in our province. Dustup did his job, but now it is the responsibility of the Afghan soldiers to defeat the Taliban. But they are weak and they are not doing it.”