Afghanistan’s First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum left the country in mid-May, ostensibly for medical treatment in Turkey. But there was another reason Dostum didn’t want to be in Afghanistan. Ahmad Ishchi, the former governor of Jowzjan and often described as Dostum’s political rival, accused the vice president of kidnapping, torture, and rape in December 2016, after Ishchi was reportedly beaten up and detained by Dostum and his men at a buzkashi match.
The bizarre incident, spurned on by Ishchi’s very public accusations and Dostum’s warlord reputation, led to domestic and international calls for a thorough investigation. In Kabul’s desperate search for even the semblance of rule of law, the government promised to deliver.
One Afghan MP, Abdul Raouf Enami, put the issue’s importance well back in December: “This is a sensitive issue and it is better for both sides that the issue should be probed by judicial centers without any interference… The allegations made against Dostum bring Afghanistan’s reputation into question. If these are wrong, Dostum’s reputation should be restored but if they proven to be true, government’s legitimacy will decrease.”
Dostum’s sudden departure for Turkey — stated as being for “medical tests” — was viewed by many as preemptive exile, possibly stemming from a secret deal with the government to allow him to avoid prosecution. While Dostum has been under pressure and now abroad for nearly 2 months, he’s technically retained his position within the government which places him first in line should some ill fate befall President Ashraf Ghani.
According to Tolo News, Dostum hasn’t attended cabinet meetings in months — he was under de facto house arrest as the investigation was underway — but his chair remained, empty, at the table. “However,” Tolo News wrote on July 9, “at the last cabinet meeting, Dostum’s chair had been removed.”
On July 11, Ambassador Hugo Llorens, U.S. embassy Kabul special chargé d’affaires, reiterated the previously stated American position of deeper concern and emphasis that the charges ought to be fully investigated.
“The ongoing legal process underscores the Afghan state’s efforts to uphold the rule of law, combat impunity, and send a signal to the Afghan people, and indeed to the whole world, that no one, no one in Afghanistan, is above the law,” Llorens said. “At the same time, the Vice President, like any other citizen, deserves due process, and the presumption of innocence.”
On July 12, the Afghan attorney general’s office confirmed to VOA that the charges against Dostum had been investigated with “complete impartiality”and the case had been submitted to a court in June.
Before Llorens’ comments, Ghani had said that the government is “totally neutral” on the proceedings and that it’s allowing Dostum to leave for Turkey purely in line with Afghan laws which provided that even those accused of crimes can travel abroad for medical treatment.
Whatever comes of the case, the implications will be serious. Dostum was a valuable ally for Ghani and retains a large base of support in the country’s north. In April, Dostum’s office and supporters organized protests against Ghani in Jowzjan province. Whether Dostum is declared innocent or not, there will be anger, frustration, and accusations that the rule of law has been cheated.