Afghanistan – Recent Developments
By J. Millard Burr and Rachel Ehrenfeld
Wednesday, January 7th, 2015 @ 12:11AM
Left: Confident of victory, before the first round of Afghan elections. General Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ashraf Ghani. Photo: Dostum’s Facebook page
More than 100 days in office, Afgan President Ashraf Ghani has missed his promised deadline to announce the make-up of his cabinet.
The election process to replace Ahmad Karzai for President of Afghanistan began in September 2013 with 27 candidates. By April 2014, after months of wrangling, eight candidates remained in the race, although only two, the World Bank executive and a professor at Johns Hopkins University and former Afghan finance minister – Ashraf Ghani, and the former Foreign Minister, the Pashtun Abdullah Abdullah, were given any chance of winning.
It was noteworthy that even though Ghani had once called Uzbek Abdur Rashid Dostum “a known killer” he chose the warlord as his running mate. Dostum was known for his 2001 collaboration with the Central Intelligence Agency, and according to the New York Times was on its payroll. Dostum payments – up to $100,000 a month in cash – were channeled through Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
At that time, Ghani explained “General Dostum is accepted as a charismatic leader by a significant number of my countrymen and countrywomen. It’s out of respect for their belief in him that we’ve joined forces,” said Ghani. Indeed, Dustom was one of six warlords in the running, and given his past treatment of prisoners he would never be a favorite of human rights organizations in the West or, for that matter, the U.S. embassy. Nevertheless, as an ethnic Uzbek he remained popular in Afghanistan’s north-central reach where the nearly three million Uzbeks of Turkik heritage predominate. (The community is the largest found outside of Uzbekistan itself.)
During the war in Afghanistan Dustom had his own following. Afterward he battled the Taliban in the War of the Warlords that followed the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. He then served as chairman of his own political party, the Junbish-e Milli-yi Islami-yi Afghanistan (National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan). In addition, he has served as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Afghan National Army. He was a military leader in the American-backed Northern Alliance that defeated the Taliban in 2001, and he has maintained a close relationship both with the U.S. CIA and with Turkey’s National Intelligence Organizations, the Milli Istihbarat Teskilati, or MIT. And recently he has rebuilt bridges to Afghanistan’s Pashtun community. The Pashtun may not love Dostum but they do respect his fighting qualities and his acknowledged ruthlessness.
There were 11 parties involved in the initial runoff. However, when no candidate could achieve the necessary 50% of the vote needed to decide the election, a second vote was required to determine the victor. In the first round Abdullah had led Ghani, but in the second held in June 2014 the tables were turned. Still, the outcome was not reached before weeks of squabbling were punctuated by myriad claims of vote fraud. The election was finally decided in September 2014 when the Independent Election Commission declared Ashraf Ghani and his running mates Gen. Dostum and Sarwar Danish the victors. In the final count Ghani gaining 4.48 million votes of the 7.95 million votes cast. Ghani was sworn in as president in September and as consolation price he appointed Abdullah as Chief Executive Officer of Afghanistan.
After his ticket won the election President Ashraf Ghani sent Dustom on a special mission to northern Afghanistan in an effort to wean mujahideen from the Taleban. Shortly thereafter Ghani received some good news as he awaited the arrival of 2015. In the north his First Vice President announced that he had reached an agreement with some 300 Taleban actives in Jowzjan province; they had agreed to lay down their arms and begin peace negotiations with the General. After hundreds of Taliban accepted peace, Dustom stated that “within twenty days thousands of more Taliban will join government.”
Dustom next celebrated the New Year by claiming in an interview with the Afghan press that he had “prepared a Special Force of 20,000 fighters to eliminate the Taliban from Afghanistan.” He predicted that he would first eliminate the Taliban from Kundoz province and follow that the movement would be extirpated in Kunar. While praising who laid down their arms, Dostum called on the rest of Taliban to join the government, because “living peace is better than being killed in Afghan National Security Forces.”
We shall see if Dustom succeeds. However, it is clear that support for the peace process in Afghanistan shows much more promise in the North than elsewhere in Afghanistan. But unless Ghani manages to form a cabinet, Dostum achievements may soon unravel.