In a blow to the Afghan government, protesters have shut down a score of public offices in northern provinces of Afghanistan after the arrest of a local warlord who carried a lot of clout among the country’s Uzbek minority.
Earlier this month, during a troubled security meeting in Faryab province, armed guards of Nizamuddin Qaisari, the commander of the Khezish-e-Mardumi (a local militia fighting against the Taliban), tried to resist his arrest by the security forces.
Nevertheless, Qaisari, who is also a close aide to the first Vice President Gen. Abdul Rasheed Dostum, was moved to the capital city of Kabul two weeks ago for a probe into alleged misuse of power and atrocities he committed against the local population.
Just weeks before this incident, Qaisari was seen in a viral video issuing death threats to local security officials.
On Sunday, Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank economist and author of the book How to rebuild a broken state, asserted that Qaisari’s arrest was a part of a comprehensive nation-wide plan against outlawed armed militias.
“Operations against illegal armed forces are being carried out at the request of the people,” the president said.
However, the protesters in Qaisari’s hometown, and especially his Junbish-e-Milli party, see the government’s move as a further encroachment on ethnic Uzbek Afghans’ positions in the unity government.
“We will lock down the Arg [presidential palace in Kabul] the way all government offices have been closed down in Jawzjan, Faryab, Takhar and Sar-i-Pul provinces,” Nek Mohammad, a Junbish supporter told The Globe Post in Sheberghan city on the eleventh day of protests.
Political commentators, such as Dr. Nezam Uddin, a Kabul-based writer and analyst, say the grievances of the Uzbek community stem from the self-imposed exile of Junbish party’s leader, Gen. Abdul Rasheed Dostum.
Dostum is a 64-year-old former communist, who is now the vice president of Afghanistan. He left the country over a year ago when one of his political rivals, Ahmad Ischi, leveled serious allegations of torture and sexual abuse against him. Cases were filed against Dostum at the Attorney General’s Office.
In July 2016, Human Rights Watch accused Dostum’s Junbish party of killing, abusing and looting civilians in the northern Faryab Province.
“Commander Qaisari is the right hand of Dostum in Afghanistan, so under circumstances when he [Dostum] is in self-imposed exile in Turkey, and the government has arrested Qaisari, the Junbish party naturally felt cornered and under threat amid such volatile security and political climate in the country,” Uddin told The Globe Post.
Afghans will participate in parliamentary elections in October, and the Junbish party has already threatened to boycott the polls if their leaders are not freed and allowed back to the country.
In the build up to the elections, the protest driven by the Junbish party flared up when viral videos of security personnel thrashing the arrested guards of Qaisari emerged. The situation agonized the Uzbek community in the backdrop of growing rift and polarization among different ethnic groups in Afghanistan forcing the government to launch a probe.
Mawlawi Bahruddin Jawzjani, a senior advisor to the Junbish party, believed Qaisari’s arrest demonstrated the “fascist” approach by the government against the Uzbeks.
“All rules and human dignity have been violated in arresting the ‘brave commander Qaisari’ and his men by the security forces,” he told The Globe Post.
Rejecting such allegations, Mohammad Radmanesh, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, told The Globe Post the incident was under investigation, and the military discipline, supremacy of the law, and human rights would not be compromised under any circumstances.
“The actions against illegally armed gangs are taken on the clear directives of the government and the demand of public… this process is not directed at anyone specific, it is a nationwide process,” the spokesperson said.
According to officials, similar “outlawed” men in the ranks of informal security forces, such as the Afghan Local Police – a US-UK sponsored local law enforcement agency established by the former U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, in the summer of 2010 – and other forces have also been rounded-up on charges of collaborating with the armed rebels, selling arms and ammunition.
It was the unwavering support of Dostum and his Junbish party that paved the way for President Ghani to win the troubled 2014 elections, according to media reports. Yet, the two now seem to be in a standoff in the wake of looming presidential elections scheduled for 2019.