Jan. 21, 2004 – General Abdul Rashid Dostum told reporters on Sunday that he is seeking a top-level military position in the Karzai administration.
Dostum, an Uzbek General, widely regarded as one of the most powerful "warlords" in post-Taliban Afghanistan, whose forces are in control of large sections of country's northern region, according to the BBC. He and his troops have long been known for their brutality and human rights violations -- a 1995 report from Amnesty International, for example, described their involvement in numerous incidents of rape, torture, and summary execution.
According to Human Rights Watch, however, they have nonetheless consolidated their positions after the fall of the Taliban, receiving crucial support to this end from the US and other international actors
Dostum is already Afghanistan's deputy defense minister, and in May 2003, the BBC reported that he was appointed special advisor to president Karzai on "security and military affairs."
On January 19, 2004, the AFP quoted Dostum as saying: "I will ask Karzai to appoint me as defence minister, army chief-of-staff or give me a military position with 20,000 soldiers." The AFP also reported that Karzai would seriously consider Dostum's request for the top position. "If he asks for a higher position in the Ministry of Defense," Karzai is quoted as saying. "It is a legitimate request and we are thinking about it."
Since its invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the US has been criticized by several human rights groups for supporting a number of brutal regional warlords with money and weapons. In September 2003, Human Rights Watch once again urged George W. Bush to "commit the United States to withdrawing financial support and arms deliveries to regional warlords and military commanders responsible for human rights violations."
However, several warlords are regarded as key allies in securing US plans for Afghanistan, making such a move unlikely. A US officer returning from Afghanistan told UK newspaper The Independent in December 2002: "Dostum is totally culpable [of human rights violations] and the US believes he's guilty, but he's our guy and so we won't say so."
Dostum's aspirations are the latest in a series of examples which show that the warlords' military power -- thought to be around 700,000-strong -- is being supplemented by increasing political power in the "new Afghanistan." For instance, the warlords were largely seen as the major beneficiaries of the initial Loya Jirga ("grand council") political processes, which selected Karzai as Afghanistan's president and appointed his transitional administration.
The country's current ministers of defense and education, Mohammad Qasim Fahim and Younis Qanooni, are, according to Sonali Kolhatkar from the US-based Afghan Women's Mission, responsible for "the indiscriminate killing of thousands of civilians during the civil war of 1992-1996."
"Unless Rabbani, Fahim, Khalili, Dostum, Sayyaf, Khalis, Ismail, Atta, etc. are wiped off the political scene of Afghanistan," reads a December 2002 statement from the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan, "any talk of freeing and legalizing Afghanistan will be just for deceiving our people and the world community."
The story comes amid reports of increasing violence in the country. On the same day as Dostum's statement, a US bombing run 330 kilometers south of Kabul reportedly killed eleven civilians, including four children. The Associated Press quoted the area's governor, Abd al-Rahman, as saying: "They were simple villagers, they were not Taliban -- I don't know why the US bombed this home."
The AP article also noted that on December 6, 2003, nine children were found dead after an attack by US aircraft on a mountain village in the province of Ghazni. Also over the weekend, the AFP reported an attack by fifteen insurgents on a US base in central Afghanistan, injuring three US troops and killing one Afghan fighter. In a separate incident, the US military command announced the death of the 100th US soldier in Afghanistan, after a car accident in the Kabul-area on Monday.