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Afghanistan Strips Power From Provincial Leader

May 23, 2003|From the Washington Post

KABUL, Afghanistan — Abdul Rashid Dostum, de facto ruler of northern Afghanistan for much of the last two decades and a highly visible member of the central government, has been named an advisor for military and security affairs, effectively stripping him of the powers that enabled him to dominate political life in his home region.

Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek with a reputation for ruthlessness, was a warlord from the Northern Alliance who helped lead the anti-Taliban sweep of northern Afghanistan in late 2001. In the 18 months since President Hamid Karzai assumed leadership of the country, Dostum has continued to wield considerable power in a handful of northern provinces.

Among the various titles Dostum held until this week was that of Karzai's special envoy to the north, a post that allowed him to collect lucrative oil and gas revenues, said Karzai's chief of staff, Sayed Tayeb Jawad.

Dostum's "new role does not include any executive power," Jawad said. "It's more or less a consultative role to help with peace and security."

This week Karzai secured agreement from regional faction leaders to obey the laws of the central government, surrender local tax revenues and stop fighting among themselves.

Dostum was traveling Thursday and could not be reached for comment. Asked whether Dostum was likely to accept his new role, Jawad said: "We will have to wait and see. The key is in implementing these decisions. He has committed himself to following the orders of the central government. But again, actions speak louder than words."

"Basically, his title and his position was something that was outside the law of the county," Jawad said. "He was operating in more than one province in the north, and it was implied that he had some executive power."

After Karzai's U.S.-backed government replaced Taliban rule, Dostum initially was made deputy defense minister and has consistently voiced support for the central government in Kabul while battling Atta Mohammed for control of the north.

Mohammed is an ethnic Tajik militia leader whose forces have frequently clashed with Dostum's in and around the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Dostum was one of a dozen powerful provincial leaders whom Karzai called to Kabul this month to sign a broad agreement acknowledging the preeminent authority of the central government and promising to turn over millions of dollars in revenues that they had been hoarding locally. One of the provisions was that none of them could hold powerful civil and military jobs simultaneously, as Dostum had long done.

The United States has been urging Karzai to rein in provincial warlords.

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