Abdul Rashid Dostum

General Abdul Rashid Dostum (born 1954) is the Deputy Defense Minister of Afghanistan and an Uzbek warlord. As the leader of Afghanistan's minority Uzbek community, he is a controversial figure who has often changed sides in Afghanistan's complex web of shifting alliances.

He began as a Communist union boss in the 1970s until he formed an Uzbek militia. By the mid-1980s, he was in command of a 20,000-strong militia controlling the northern provinces of Afghanistan. He supported the Gorbachev-era Communist reforms in Afghanistan and was allied with the government of President Najibullah to defend the communist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan against the United States-backed mujahedin in the 1980s.

By the end of Najibullah's rule in early 1992, Dostum changed sides again, this time to fight with the mujahedeen by allying with Ahmed Shah Massoud. Together, they captured Kabul, the Afghan capital. He briefly joined the mujahideen government of Burhanuddin Rabbani before defecting again, even briefly entering into an alliance with the Islamist forces of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. In 1994, they once more laid siege on Kabul, this time against the government of Burhanuddin Rabbani and Massoud. The forces he commanded in Kabul in the mid-1990s were accused of atrocities against civilians and extensively looted the capital.

In 1996, following the rise of the Taliban and their capture of Herat and Kabul, Dostum realigned himself with Rabbani against the Taliban. Along with General Mohammed Fahim and Ismail Khan, Dostum was one of three factional leaders that comprised the Northern Alliance. While much of the rest of Afghanistan was in ruins, his stronghold of Mazar-e-Sharif - a city of around two million people - was thriving.General Dostum grew rich, but his rule was harsh. He is reported to have frequently ordered public executions of criminals, who were usually crushed to death under tanks. It is claimed that he financed his army with profits from the opium trade. At the height of his power in 1997 - at the age of 43 - he controlled a kind of mini-state in northern Afghanistan.

The Taliban's capture of Mr. Dostum's fortress and airfield in Mazar-e-Sharif in 1997 forced him into exile in Uzbekistan and Iran. In 1998, he fled to Turkey. He returned in 2000 to join the Northern Alliance, seeking to avenge himself on the Taliban. He found that opportunity in 2001, when he drove the Taliban from power on the heels of a U.S.-led bombing campaign. The leader of the second largest party in the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, General Dostum directed the campaign to recapture Mazar-e-Sharif - the town he once ruled. Dostum then consolidated his power base in the north, strengthening his hold on an area which covered six provinces with a population of around five million.

Karzai appointed him as a special adviser on security and military affairs, with effective control over security affairs in the northern Afghan provinces of Balkh, Jowzjan, Sar-e Pol, Samangan, and Faryab. Today he runs parts of the country's north as his own fiefdom, nominally serving as a deputy defense minister to the national government in Kabul but operating almost totally independent of the government. Dostum's force of some 20,000 militia fighters is composed mostly of ethnic Uzbeks who are members of his political group, Junbish-e Melli. Within his areas of control, he encourages women to live and work freely, as well as music, sports, alcohol, and allows for people of other religions.

In November of 2002, the United Nations began an investigation of alleged human rights abuses by Dostum. Witnesses claimed that Dostum jailed and tortured witnesses to prevent them from testifying in a war crimes case. Dostum is also under suspicion for the events of the Dasht-i-Leili massacre.

In March of 2003, he established a North Zone of Afghanistan, against the wishes of interim president Hamid Karzai. On May 20, 2003, Dostum signed an agreement to no longer serve as Karzai's special envoy for the northern regions.

Forces loyal to Dostum continue to clash with forces loyal to Tajik General Atta Mohammed.

A government program to disarm 100,000 militia personnel in 2003 and 2004 resulted in disarming an estimated 11,000 by mid-2004. Abdul Rashid Dostum (who was also deputy defense minister) and Ismail Khan, who had been governor of Herat Province, had been particularly intransigent warlords. Local fighting also has persisted over land resettlement questions.

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