KABUL — Brutality allegations against Vice President Abdurrashid Dostum have thrown the Afghan government into an uproar, with President Ashraf Ghani facing intense international pressure to investigate the case and aides to the powerful former warlord claiming the charges are part of a political plot against him.
Ghani met with a group of foreign ambassadors at his palace Wednesday to discuss their concerns. Sources familiar with the meeting said there were hints that some foreign aid might be withheld unless swift action is taken, but they also said Ghani was furious at Dostum and reassured the group that he wanted him brought to justice.
Dostum, a mercurial former general and ethnic Uzbek militia leader who has previously been accused of human rights abuses, allegedly beat and stomped on Ahmad Ishchi, a former provincial governor and political rival, in front of hundreds of people at a polo match several weeks ago.
From there, Ishchi said in a TV interview Tuesday, he was taken prisoner in Dostum’s compound in northern Afghanistan, where Dostum allegedly brutalized him and ordered his guards to rape the white-bearded man. Ishchi was released after five days through negotiations with local elders.
Dostum, 62, has remained in his compound in Jowzjan province and has not spoken publicly about the accusations, but aides from his party held a news conference at his ornate office in the Afghan capital Wednesday, where they charged that the reports were a fabrication and part of a domestic and foreign conspiracy to discredit Dostum.
The vice president has been in a running battle for several months with Ghani, who once denounced him as a warlord but selected him as a running mate in 2014 because he commanded wide electoral support among ethnic minority groups in his northern regional stronghold.
Dostum, who was nearly killed in a Taliban attack on his convoy several months ago, harshly criticized the government for not protecting him and then accused Ghani’s national security adviser of plotting the attack.
Ahama Tahij, the spokesman for his National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan party, said Wednesday that Dostum was the “victim of an organized conspiracy” by internal and foreign groups. He said Ishchi had been collaborating with anti-government groups and was arrested by security forces upon being released from Dostum’s compound.
Tahij said the party “obeys the law” and “welcomes a fair probe into the case,” but he also said a delegation from Dostum that met Wednesday with Ghani had been assured that the problem would be solved through a traditional meeting of elders and in consultation with other groups.
Diplomatic sources said the president was determined to make sure the case was investigated and referred to judicial authorities. One diplomat said Ghani had spent two years in office tolerating “bad behavior” by former warlords to avoid political tensions, but that this incident “might be the breaking point.”
A government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said that if Dostum were prosecuted and found guilty of the alleged assaults, he would be removed from his post. Sources said Ghani met Wednesday with Abdullah Abdullah, the government’s chief executive, and with senior court officials to discuss further steps.
Politically, it would still be risky for Ghani to move against Dostum. The rogue former militia leader commands a large number of armed men, and he is a longtime rival of other ethnic leaders in northern Afghanistan. Observers said he could retaliate violently against the government or attempt to destabilize it politically.
In parliament Tuesday, a heated debate erupted between legislators who called for Dostum to be prosecuted, saying he had brought shame to the country, and supporters who insisted he was the victim of a plot.
Tahij said Dostum had been elected “by the people in a package” along with Ghani and that the controversy “would not harm his position.”