First cracks in accord as warlord boycotts council

War on terrorism
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The Independent Online

The Bonn agreement, which is supposed to bring stability to Afghanistan, began to unravel within a day of being signed. General Rashid Dostum, the most powerful warlord in the north of the country, said he would boycott the interim government because his faction had been treated unfairly.

A day after the delegates in Bonn said they believed the interim government fairly represented the many factions in Afghanistan, the general disagreed. "We are very sad," he said. "We announce our boycott of this government and will not go to Kabul until there is a proper government in place."

Nobody can afford to ignore General Dostum, the leading warlord from Afghanistan's ethnic Uzbeks. He and his allies control five provinces in the north, including Mazar, one of the most important cities and a vital transit corridor to Uzbekistan. He heads one of the largest and most effective private armies in the country.

It was his victory in Mazar-i-Sharif, which he once ruled as his private fiefdom, that started the collapse of the Taliban across Afghanistan, as he did not hesitate to point out yesterday. "There are intellectual people in Junbish [Dostum's party] without whose sacrifice and struggle the Americans could not have defeated the Taliban and terrorism. We actually caused the demise of the Taliban," he said.

General Dostum, a man who has changed allegiances many times, may be feeling let down by his American allies. A month ago, they were busy arming him with a view to capturing Mazar as a forward base. But within days of the fall of Mazar, most of the rest of the country folded as well. Now that the Taliban's stronghold in the north, Kunduz, has fallen, the general may fear he has outlived his usefulness to the Americans.

Sayed Ahmad Gailani, an ethnic Pashtun leader, also condemned the Bonn agreement, saying: "Injustices have been committed in the distribution of ministries." Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a hardline Islamic warlord in exile in Iran, complained as well.

But it will be General Dostum's anger that will cause the most immediate disquiet. Soldiers under his command were involved in the fierce fighting last week at Qalai Janghi fortress jail where at least 150 Taliban prisoners of war were massacred. During the civil war in the Nineties he was one of those responsible for the devastation of Kabul and the deaths of some 50,000 civilians.

If he stands by his refusal to take part in the interim government, it could be fatal to the chances of the new premier, Hamid Karzai, uniting Afghanistan after 22 years of war.

General Dostum said he had demanded the foreign ministry for his party, Junbish-i-Milli, but had been given only the agriculture and mining and industry portfolios. The foreign ministry went to Abdullah Abdullah of the Northern Alliance, which also took the two other most important ministries, defence and interior.

Although General Dostum nominally allied himself with the Northern Alliance for the purposes of overthrowing the Taliban, there are deep rifts between them. General Dostum was a long-standing rival of the Northern Alliance's murdered warlord, Ahmed Shah Masood.

The Bonn conference was presented with a fait accompli by the Northern Alliance, once it had captured the capital, Kabul. The agreement on the interim government compromised by allowing the Tajiks to keep their grip on the most powerful ministries, but naming Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun, as premier. The Uzbeks have ended up with a handful of minor ministries, and the Shia ethnic Hazara, who make up almost a fifth of the population, have done equally badly.