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Afghan vice president’s return thwarted as plane is turned back

Dostum has been in conflict with the government for months, most recently over a criminal investigation into accusations that he kidnapped and sexually assaulted a political rival.

world Updated: Jul 19, 2017 17:40 IST
Afghanistan,vice president Gen Abdul Rashid Dostum,President Ashraf Ghani
File photo of Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostam speaking at a ceremony in Sheberghan. (AFP)

During nearly two months of de facto exile in Turkey, Afghanistan’s embattled vice president Gen Abdul Rashid Dostum hastily formed a new coalition of the discontented. On Monday, he tried to return to Afghanistan to advance their cause.

But as hundreds of supporters waited late into the night at an airport in northern Afghanistan, the small private plane carrying Dostum, an ex-warlord, was denied permission to land on orders from the central government, according to several Afghan and Western officials.

The episode will probably deepen Afghanistan’s political crisis, testing the limits of Dostum, a politician who has been volatile in the past and who has threatened to turn his wrath against President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which he helped bring to power but now accuses of marginalizing him.

Supporters of Dostum who gathered at the airport in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif to greet him were frustrated when he was turned away. “There were about 500 to 1,000 people waiting for him, and we waited for three hours,” said Raees Abdul Khaliq, a member of the Balkh provincial council who was at the airport Monday night. “The central government, against all the laws of Afghanistan and the world, against the fact that the president cannot rule an ordinary citizen — let alone the vice president — a criminal until proven by a court, told the plane not to land.”

Dostum has been in conflict with the government for months, most recently over a criminal investigation into accusations that he and his bodyguards kidnapped and sexually assaulted a political rival. The vice president is turning out to be one of the biggest headaches of Ghani’s presidency.

As it became clear that Dostum would not answer to the Afghan legal system on the sexual assault charges, defying multiple requests by the attorney general’s office, Ghani’s team sought to disregard Dostum and drive him into self-imposed exile in Turkey. That approach was also used in 2008, when Dostum was accused of a similar assault against another rival. Dostum left for Turkey in the middle of the night on May 19.

Dostum’s new political alliance, which was announced last month in Ankara, the Turkish capital, has a strong base in northern Afghanistan. Members of the alliance have been working on a grand introduction for the alliance in Mazar-i-Sharif.

First Published: Jul 19, 2017 17:40 IST