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Snubbed by US, Afghan Warlord Looked to Russia

FILE - General Abdul Rashid Dostum, center in gray turban, leader of Afghanistan's Uzbek community arrives at the Kabul international airport, Aug. 16, 2009.

For decades, Afghanistan’s Abdul Rashid Dostum has been a powerful player in the remote north of the restive country.

As an army general and warlord, he aligned himself with America’s CIA when the Taliban was in power and helped the U.S. oust the militant group in 2001.

But now as Afghan vice president, Dostum is trying to show he remains a power broker. Last fall, he visited Chechnya and reportedly solicited arms for the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in Afghanistan. He stopped in Moscow to renew ties with the Kremlin.

And he told Voice of America that he also wants to visit the U.S. to discuss the Afghan government’s continuing struggle against the Taliban, IS, drug trafficking, and political uncertainty.

“I am well acquainted with our Pentagon friends and congressmen and American generals who had been in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he told VOA’s Afghan service. “I want to discuss the situation with them. They have to take this issue seriously. Otherwise, it might get out of control.”

But the Obama administration is apparently having no part of Dostum.
According to a report in The New York Times on Tuesday, the U.S. quietly passed along the word that if Dostum attempted a visit to the U.S., his visa application would be denied because of the alleged atrocities committed under his command against the Taliban.

The Afghan government reportedly cancelled Dostum’s plans for a U.S. trip after the word from the U.S. State Department, The Times reported.

Dostum had planned to participate in a special session of the United Nations Assembly this month on the world’s drug problems. Instead, the Afghan minister for counter-narcotics, Salamat Azimi - a Dostum appointee - represented Dostum and delivered his speech.

When asked by VOA about the trip cancellation, Dostum said the unrest in Afghanistan forced him to remain home.

“America is our friend and we thank her for supporting our national army and police,” he said. “I personally intend to visit as soon as the situation here allows.”

Dostum’s spokesperson, Shahbaz Eraj, called The New York Times report “baseless.” He said Dostum postponed his scheduled visit to the U.S. because he preferred to lead the ongoing operations against insurgents in the north.

Dostum met with the U.S. Ambassador in Kabul, the spokesman said, refusing to discuss details of the meeting.

Dostum has spent much of his time during the past few months in his native northern Jouzjan province where Taliban insurgents have stepped up militant activities. He has been leading clean-up operations in Jouzjan and neighboring provinces.

FILE - Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (C) stands with his first vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum (L) and second vice president Sarwar Danish as they take the oath during his inauguration as president in Kabul, Sept. 29, 2014.
FILE - Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (C) stands with his first vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum (L) and second vice president Sarwar Danish as they take the oath during his inauguration as president in Kabul, Sept. 29, 2014.

Since assuming the vice presidency in September 2014, Dostum has reportedly been at odds with the National Unity Government headed by President Ashraf Ghani. His chair at cabinet and national security council meetings has often remained unoccupied as Dostum refuses to participate.

But relations may be thawing, analysts say.

Ghani’s participation in a gathering of ethnic Uzbeks hosted by Dostum last month in Kabul was seen as a reconciliatory effort by the two leaders. Recently, two of Dostum confidants were awarded high government positions, including the post of the deputy national security advisor.

Last fall Dostum visited Russia’s turbulent republic of Chechnya where he enjoyed a warm welcome by the Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov, who called Dostum a “brother.”

“Winning the fight against terrorism” was the agenda of Dostum’s visit, according to Kadyrov.

The Afghan vice president “asked for a military assistance in fighting IS whose increasing presence in Afghanistan has become a growing security concern for the government,” Kadyrov’s statement said.

The Afghan government did not comment on Dostum’s visit to Chechnya and Russia.

Russia has upped its military and economic aid to the Afghan government, which is battling the Taliban in several areas of the country.

That aid includes 10,000 Kalashnikov rifles and millions of rounds of ammunition that the government will use to fight both IS and the Taliban insurgency, analysts said.