KABUL – Afghan police lifted a brief siege of the house of former ethnic Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum in Kabul on Sunday after he and a group of around 50 armed men beat up a former ally, a police chief said.
The standoff highlights the problem of powerful warlords who helped tear Afghanistan apart in the 1992-96 civil war and are still waiting in the wings should President Hamid Karzai fail in the fight against Taliban insurgents and lose his grip on government.
Dostum, a fierce warlord with a reputation for brutality and treachery, beat up his former election manager Akbar Bay late on Saturday, said Kabul police chief Salem Hasaas.
One of Bay’s bodyguards was shot and Dostum and his men fled to the warlord’s house, Hasaas said. Bay was taken to hospital.
Dozens of police armed with assault rifles and machine guns mounted on pick-up trucks surrounded Dostum’s house in a relatively upmarket part of Kabul and other officers took up positions on the roofs of neighboring houses.
One shot was fired, but it was unclear where it came from.
Shortly afterwards, police began to withdraw.
“We have received orders to hand the case over to the judiciary for investigation,” said the head of the Kabul police criminal investigations Ali Shah Paktiawal.
The burly Dostum rose to command ethnic Uzbek fighters allied to the Soviet Union during the 1979-89 occupation, then switched sides as Soviet troops withdrew. He then formed and broke alliances several times during the civil war, meanwhile running much of northern Afghanistan as his personal fiefdom.
At the height of his power, the burly, mustached fighter ran a mini-state centered in parts of the north and his well-equipped army kept even the Taliban at bay until 1997. He printed his own money, set up his own airline, drove an armored Cadillac and vowed never to bow to a government that banned whisky and music.
Police officers outside Dostum’s house said the former warlord briefly appeared on the roof of his residence and seemed drunk as he abused them before his guards pulled him indoors.
A spokesman for Dostum said there was no truth in the accusations against the former warlord and warned of unrest if police tried to arrest him.
“This is a plot against General Dostum, the government is trying to undermine him,” said spokesman and member of parliament Mohammad Alem Sayeh. “The government should know that if it tries to capture Dostum, then seven or eight provinces in the north will turn against the government.”
Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun from the south, is struggling to assert his authority faced with a resurgent Taliban campaign of guerrilla warfare in the south and east and suicide bombings along the length and breadth of the country.
Karzai has also lost the backing of the Northern Alliance former mujahideen commanders, including Dostum, that helped U.S.-led troops helped overthrow the Taliban government after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Dostum ran for president in the 2004 election gaining 10 percent of the vote. Since then President Hamid Karzai named him as a top military advisor, a post largely seen as an attempt at co-opting a powerful and unpredictable figure.