Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum recently returned to his roots.
One of the country’s most notorious former warlords, the chameleonic 61-year-old ethnic Uzbek left Kabul in July and charged up north, rallying armed villagers, his old militiamen, and Afghan security forces to battle Taliban militants threatening to overrun his native homeland in northern Afghanistan.
On his return to the capital this week, reportedly following a narrow escape from a Taliban ambush, Dostum declared he had “cleared” swaths of territory from the grip of the Taliban and other antigovernment militants.
But locals in areas now under control of the militias complain of a range of abuses at the hands of the irregular forces, renewing fears that Kabul’s handover of command to a man widely suspected of permitting or personally ordering wartime atrocities in the 1990s and 2000s could severely compromise the government effort.
In Faryab, a multiethnic province in the northwest along the border with Turkmenistan, residents have accused militiamen fighting under Dostum’s banner of rape, extortion, arbitrary arrests, and theft.
“After Dostum secured our area, the militias looted our homes and stole our motorcycles,” says a resident of Faryab’s Qaiser district who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “Can’t the Afghan vice president control his own forces?”
“They’re thieves and are without any honor,” says a resident of Pashtun Kot district who also spoke on condition of anonymity. “They entered our homes and took away our women.”
Dostum has denied raising independent militias, saying those fighting under him are “uprising forces.”
Sayed Abdul Hashemi, Faryab’s provincial security chief, also denied that such militias were mobilized in Faryab. Hashemi said the claims were “Taliban propaganda” intended to derail the government’s military campaign in the province.
The militias have entered a chaotic battlefield that has pitted the Taliban, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) militants, Islamic State fighters, and foreign gunmen against Afghan National Army soldiers and National Police as well as U.S.-trained, pro-government village militias known as Afghan Local Police.