11 September 2001>News Stories>Afghan Has No Doubt Country Needs Him

Afghan Has No Doubt Country Needs Him
Carlotta Gall . NYTimes . 27 December

General Abdul Rashid Dostum holding court in northern Afghanistan.

SHIBARGHAN, Afghanistan, Dec. 26 — Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, the newly appointed deputy defense minister for Afghanistan, made clear today that he believed that nobody could govern the country without his support.

Referring to a meeting last weekend with the new prime minister, Hamid Karzai, General Dostum announced to a gathering of elders in this northern town that: "I told Karzai your government cannot work without me. I captured the whole of the north of the country from the Taliban and the whole world knows me well as the winner in all the north." One of the elders chimed in, saying, "Everyone is very proud of you."

"I know everyone is very proud of me," General Dostum replied.

An ethnic Uzbek Afghan and Russian- trained officer, General Dostum, 47, ruled this, his hometown, and much of the north of Afghanistan with a sometimes brutal fist for eight years before the Taliban took control in 1997. He spent most of the intervening years in exile in Turkey and Iran but came back in March this year to fight with the anti-Taliban alliance, and he helped push out the Taliban last month.

Although his military power is diminished these days, General Dostum has always had a strong sense of his own worth and has been loud in claiming responsibility for toppling the Taliban in the north. The general's hubris is considerable, and he is widely viewed as a potentially destabilizing force in the new Afghanistan.

The general spoke today in the courtyard of the government guest house that he built in a previous era of prosperity. The swimming pool lies empty and chipped now, and the paintings inside have been defaced by the Taliban, but the general held court sitting in the sun in the rose garden.

He said in an interview that his responsibility would stretch across the eastern provinces of Takhar and Kunduz and Baghlan, as well as Mazar-i-Sharif, the biggest city and the capital of the north. Until now the mainly ethnic Tajik Jamiat Party, which dominates the Northern Alliance, has held control of those provinces, and local commanders, as well as leaders in Kabul, are unlikely to want to relinquish control.

In a burst of impatience, General Dostum also said he wanted the governor of Mazar-i- Sharif, a Jamiat man, to vacate the governor's building. "That should be my headquarters," he said.

It seemed clear that General Dostum was determined to build a broad power base in the north. Whether this will be put to the service of the new national unity government or to more personal ends remains an open question.

He said today that he would take command of all the armed forces of the Northern Alliance in northern Afghanistan and of the former Taliban forces who have joined them, promising to ensure security for all citizens across the whole region.

The move would make him one of the most powerful figures in Afghanistan, but in practice, personal and factional rivalries might forestall it.

General Dostum's appointment was announced by Mr. Karzai over the weekend just after the new government was inaugurated. It has been interpreted as a necessary pre- emptive move to win the general's support for the new government, but it remains to be seen how far General Dostum will use it to expand his power.

"There are many forces in the north and they need to be brought under control," he said, explaining his appointment. He said he would call a meeting in a day or two of the region's commanders to see how they could ensure security across the area. He added that all forces would be ordered into division bases in or around the main towns, and there they would receive supplies and training in an effort to create the beginnings of a national army.

He promised to deal harshly with anyone who resisted. Troops would continue seeking out and disarming Taliban remnants, he said, brushing aside questions that his troops were looting along the way. Any Northern Alliance forces or groups who refuse to withdraw into barracks will be punished and even detained, he said.

He told journalists on Tuesday that foreign officials were also concerned about the different unidentified armed groups in the city. "There are unofficial commanders in Mazar-i- Sharif," he said. "They have guns, and a district, so they call themselves a commander. They will be cleaned up."

He also promised the ethnic Uzbek elders visiting him today that a change of government in six months would give the Uzbeks, who represent approximately one-fifth of the population, a stronger representation, hinting at an even greater role for himself in Mazar-i-Sharif.

"In six months we will see who will succeed, if the Uzbeks are a majority or a minority here," he said. "The people will elect the one they want."

For the moment, General Dostum does not really control Mazar-i-Sharif. He has no base of his own and only uses the government offices for short visits, always returning home to Shiberghan or to another guest house at a factory complex outside the town.

The ethnic Tajik general, Atta Muhammad, whose forces are more numerous than General Dostum's and probably played a more important role in defeating the Taliban, has appeared the more dominant force in Mazar-i-Sharif. The two have had a long rivalry since General Dostum expelled General Muhammad in 1993, and then broke with Jamiat and the government of Burhanuddin Rabbani in Kabul.

General Dostum's repeated treachery over the years does not bode well for harmonious relations with either the ethnic Tajik and Hazara forces now nominally under his control. Both groups have voiced loyalty to the government and so have accepted General Dostum's appointment, but they may well continue working for their own leaders, in particular the Tajik defense minister, Gen. Muhammad Fahim and the Hazara deputy prime minister, Hajji Muhammad Moheqiq.

General Dostum said he did not expect any difficulties from past rivalries. "You will see, they are all working under my command," he said.