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Karzai Allows Afghan Warlord to Return from Exile, Despite US Objection

A controversial but still powerful former Afghan warlord has flown back to the country from exile to campaign for President Hamid Karzai. The return home of the Communist-era militia general is seen as a boost for the incumbent president's campaign.

Just after Afghanistan's government announced it had no objection to his return, former Uzbek warlordjetted home from exile in Turkey. He wasted no time injecting himself into the final hours of the presidential campaign, throwing his support behind President Karzai.

That is of no small significance. Dostum himself collected ten percent of the votes in the 2004 election and many of his fellow Uzbeks will follow his lead.

Both the United Nations and the United States are upset about Dostum's return. The U.S. Embassy here released a statement saying Dostum's reputation raises "questions of his culpability for massive human rights violations."

Kabul University political science professor Wadir Safi tells VOA that President Karzai's embrace of the general may have a short-term political gain to capture the Uzbek vote, but will further undermine the President's credibility with the majority.

"He has lost his trust [with] the people of Afghanistan because of these acts and not applying justice in the society and supporting the war criminals. He can not be successful in the future by bringing such personalities beside him," said Safi.

A U.S. State Department report quote witnesses as saying that during the American-led war to overthrow the Taliban, Gen. Dostum's forces suffocated prisoners in sealed cargo containers.

Last year, Dostum was accused of a drunken attack on a rival.

The general, who has a reputation for switching allegiances, holds the ceremonial post of Chief of Staff to the Afghan National Army's Commander-in-Chief.

Mr. Karzai, who has been president for seven years, is leading all challengers. But polls show him falling short of the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff election.

The Taliban are vowing to disrupt Thursday's balloting. To counter the threat, a massive security operation is planned for election day. Several hundred thousand Afghan forces and international troops are being deployed to secure nearly 29,000 voting sites nationwide.