- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 11, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan (Agence France Presse) Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, the first opposition commander to claim the capture of Mazar-e-Sharif on Friday, has finally returned to the city he once ruled as his personal "capital."
The son of a poor working-class family from the minority Uzbek ethnic community in the northern province of Jowzjan, Gen. Dostum began his checkered military career shortly after the Soviet invasion of 1979.
As a noted union leader in northern Afghanistan, he was sent to the Soviet Union for military training and returned to his homeland to head a feared 20,000-strong pro-communist militia.
He was promoted to the rank of general and won the decoration "Hero of the Republic of Afghanistan" for his victories against the mujahideen forces and guerrilla commanders who now number among his allies against the Taliban.
In 1992 three years after the Soviet withdrawal the tide turned, and so did Gen. Dostum.
He abandoned the Moscow-installed regime of Najibullah, and teamed up with his old foe, the late mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Masood, with whom he briefly shared power in Kabul.
Frustrated at being excluded from the positions of power he craved, the stocky general switched sides again in 1994, forming an unlikely alliance with hard-line Islamist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, of the Pashtun ethnic majority. Mr. Hekmatyar is now in exile in Iran and has been trying to negotiate an alliance with the Taliban.
Their subsequent unsuccessful battle with Mr. Masood left much of the capital, Kabul, in ruins, and his militia earned the nickname "Killim Jam", or carpet thieves, for their extensive looting of the city.
After failing to grab power in Kabul, Gen. Dostum retreated to the north, setting up a ministate spanning six of Afghanistan's 30 provinces and becoming the undisputed and widely popular leader of 5 million Afghans.
His "capital" was Mazar-e-Sharif, which then had a population of 2 million, its own currency, a large airport, a university and thriving trade with Uzbekistan.
His rule was draconian, and his favorite method of dealing with serious crime was publicly crushing criminals under tank tracks. Even so, Mazar-e-Sharif became a relatively liberal haven for people fleeing the hard-line Taliban Islamic militia, which captured Kabul in 1996.
Courted by foreign powers as a leader in his own right of Afghanistan's "island of peace," he visited London, Washington and New York in 1995.
He owned a private jet, drove around in a stretch, bullet-proof Cadillac and had investments including a hotel complex in Turkey.
The Taliban referred to him as a "drunken infidel."
In May 1997 the fundamentalist militia set their sights on bringing "pure Islam" to his territory.
They paid off Gen. Dostum's ally, Uzbek warlord Abdul Malik, to help them capture Mazar-e-Sharif and drive Gen. Dostum into exile in Turkey. But Mr. Malik switched sides again, slaughtered the occupying Taliban and took Gen. Dostum's throne.
In October 1997 Gen. Dostum again bounced back, ousted Mr. Malik, briefly regained his stronghold and teamed up with his old enemy Mr. Masood, to become the second-largest force in the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.
But in 1998 his own generals switched sides, and Gen. Dostum was again sent packing as the Taliban rolled back into Mazar-e-Sharif.
He returned earlier this year, but Gen. Dostum had not been able to threaten the Taliban's grip on his old capital until his latest ally emerged in the form of the United States.


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