It’s a ridiculous story, to be frank. Afghanistan’s First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum — a former warlord and general who still likes to ride out with his army to fight the Taliban — allegedly beat up Ahmad Ishchi, a political rival, on the sidelines of a buzkashi match and took him hostage last Friday. At the time, Dostum was technically the country’s acting president as President Ashraf Ghani was in Turkmenistan.
Two days later, according to the New York Times, hundreds of protesters gathered near Dostum’s residence, described as a “pink palace” in Shibarghan, in Jowzjan Province.
The governor of Jowzjan Province, Lutfullah Azizi, told the NYT he was working on calming the situation. “I organized the tribal elders and sent them to talk with General Dostum to release Ahmad… They are currently meeting General Dostum, and we are emphasizing Ahmad’s release tonight, as he is sick.”
Dostum rejected the allegation that he had attacked or abducted Ishchi. Instead, he said Ishchi had been arrested for “financing militant groups” and “contributing to insecurity in the province.”
Ishchi has a lower political profile than Dostum but is still a figure of some note. He helped Dostum found the Junbish party and served in provincial government positions during the Communist period. One son was a district governor in Jowzjan, another is a member of a provincial council, and the third is a businessman.
As the week went on, Dostum was the subject of harsh headlines. Ishchi’s relatives spoke to various media outlets, telling the story as an abduction. One son, Batur, told Tolonews, “They took [Ishchi] to their home. They kept our father. We don’t know the reason. Government does not care about us. No one cares about us.”
Batur told RFE/RL that his father had been held by Dostum until November 29 when he was transferred to police custody. He also said that his father and Dostum had had an argument before the alleged assault and abduction.
Thursday, Tolonews reported that a “reliable security source” confirmed that Ishchi was being held by the National Directorate of Security (NDS). Why it took six days for the NDS to inform Ishchi’s family of his detention is unclear. Babur, another of Ishchi’s sons, said his father had been turned over to the NDS in Jowzjan by Dostum.
The order of operations is a bit hazy. If Ishchi was arrested on charges as Dostum claims, were they issued before or after the fight at the buzkashi match? Was Dostum micromanaging the arrest as he has at times micromanaged army operations in northern Afghanistan? Or rather, did Dostum fly off the handle and retroactively need a legal reason for locking up Ishchi?
Few Afghan politicians have clean hands and Dostum is a man with not only a history of violence, but an ego that demands satisfaction. In October, in a characteristic outburst, Dostum accused Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, ethnically Pashtun and Tajik, respectively, of favoring their own ethnic groups. Dostum, the leading figure in Afghanistan’s Uzbek community, complained that he had been treated as an “enemy.” He then seemed to make a veiled threat: “I don’t need a coup d’état or anything. But if the day comes, I will gather my people, I will unburden my heart to them. And after that… ”
So far Ghani has not weighed in publicly on the Ishchi-Dostum feud.