Taliban Target, but Fail to Kill, Afghanistan Vice President
Attack comes after Abdul Rashid Dostum tells crowd that if given the chance, he could eliminate Islamists from country’s North in six months
[Islamabad] Taliban fighters staged three attacks on Saturday against a convoy transporting Afghanistan’s first-vice-president, Abdul Rashid Dostum, killing four bodyguards but leaving Dostum unhurt.
Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid told The Media Line that one of the dead had been a close aide to Dostum, and that six other people had been wounded.
Dostum, 63, is a former army general and a leader of Afghanistan’s Uzbek community. The heavily armed convoy was attacked on a highway in the north, his power base.
Rustam Khan Yousafzai, a former Afghan intelligence official, told The Media Line that the coordinated attacks left many questions about the security situation in the country, as they involved a very senior figure in his personal stronghold. He called the attacks a “severe breach” of the country’s national security and intelligence network.
This is not the first time Dostum survived an assassination attempt at the hands of the Taliban. In fact, it’s at least the fourth. In 2015, the Taliban ambushed his convoy in the country’s Qaisar region. In 2016, he sustained minor injuries during an ambush in the northern Faryab Province. And in July of last year, he escaped a suicide attack at the airport in Kabul.
“It is not easy for the Afghan Taliban to forget Dostum’s brutality during the US-led invasion,” Abu Suhaib Haqqani, a senior Taliban official, told The Media Line.
Haqqani was referring to late 2001, just after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, when the administration of then-president George W. Bush sent forces to the country in an effort to find Osama bin Laden.
A former pro-Soviet fighter, Dostum has been accused of suffocating hundreds of Taliban prisoners in sealed shipping containers at the start of the war. He also reportedly had captives run over by tanks, and others tied to the muzzles of cannons as they fired their rounds.
Radio journalist Noorullah Turkistani told The Media Line that Dostum had returned to the city of Balkh on Friday from a trip abroad. Addressing a public gathering there, he said he could eliminate the Taliban from northern Afghanistan within six months if given the chance.
Syed Ahmed Salah Uddin, an Afghan human rights researcher who had been assigned to investigate alleged war crimes, told The Media Line that he had called for Dostum and others to be prosecuted, but Kabul preferred to allow him to go into exile.
EU donor countries are said to have pledged their support if Afghan President Ashraf Ghani allowed him to return, promising an investigation into the alleged human rights violations. Dostum came back last July.
Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program and Senior Associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a Washington-based think tank, told The Media Line that Dostum was a controversial, but powerful, figure in Afghanistan. The government, he said, had been cautious with him – particularly amid recent allegations of torture – but had never distanced itself from him.
In its 2018 annual report, Human Rights Watch noted that in January 2017, Afghanistan’s attorney-general ordered nine of Dostum’s bodyguards to answer questions in connection with the abduction, illegal imprisonment and sexual abuse of Ahmad Ischi, a rival Uzbek figure. Dostum refused to allow the bodyguards to report.
Kugelman said that while Kabul might acknowledge that Dostum is a shady figure, it recognizes that he is too powerful to sideline. And now, having again been targeted by the Taliban, the government has no choice but to throw its full support behind him.