KABUL, Afghanistan – A notorious Afghan warlord accused of allowing the murder of hundreds, if not thousands, of prisoners and then destroying the evidence returned to Afghanistan Sunday night as part of what appears to be a political deal brokered with President Hamid Karzai.
Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum arrived from Turkey just four days before the Afghan presidential elections, in which his support could be key to Karzai’s chances of securing more than 50 percent of the vote – the threshold for avoiding a second round of elections.
Karzai has come under criticism for consolidating his position by striking deals with warlords like Dostum and those suspected of connections to the country’s opium trade.
Dostum comes with considerable baggage. There have been repeated allegations that his men were responsible for the deaths of up to 2,000 alleged Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners in late 2001, a time when Dostum worked closely with U.S. special forces and intelligence teams in northern Afghanistan.
A McClatchy investigation last year uncovered information suggesting Dostum later directed the removal of the remains of those slain prisoners, destroying the evidence of the original crime.
President Barack Obama recently said he has asked his national security team to collect as many facts as possible about the incident to determine whether to launch a full investigation.
Seamak Herawi, a spokesman for Karzai, told reporters there was no reason why Dostum could not return home.
“There is no legal obstacle for Gen. Dostum’s return to Afghanistan,” he said.
Hundreds of jubilant members of Dostum’s Jumbish Party converged on Kabul International Airport to greet Dostum, an Uzbek former communist general who repeatedly switched sides in the devastating civil war that erupted between Islamic guerrilla groups after the Soviet occupation.
His head clad in a silver turban and his shoulders draped with a chapan, a traditional long green coat, Dostum rode into the city followed by his loyalists and rifle-toting members of his private militia in a caravan of honking vehicles.
More supporters were awaiting him at his massive red three-story mansion in Sherpur, a neighborhood filled with “poppy palaces” allegedly built with opium profits.
Dostum was put under house arrest in Afghanistan last year after he and his men were said to have dragged a rival leader out of his home, beaten him and his family and held the man hostage. After a meeting with Karzai in late November, he left for Turkey.
Dostum has denied the prisoners in 2001 died in large numbers, a position he repeated in a statement last month, saying it was “confirmed by those who were responsible for accepting the surrender of these prisoners of war – including doctors and members of the military forces of the United States.”