Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum is set to return on Sunday, potentially ending weeks of protests by his supporters, after he was exiled to Turkey last year over accusations that he ordered the rape of a political rival.
The controversial former warlord will be officially welcomed back to Kabul, Yunus Tugra, an adviser to Gen Dostum said. “Everything is set up for his arrival. He is coming tomorrow with an official ceremony at airport and another special event at his office in the Sadarat Palace,” which hosts the vice president's office.
Gen Dostum will then resume his post in government, a spokesman to President Ashraf Ghani said on Saturday. "He will continue in his role as the first vice president to the Afghan President after his arrival to Kabul," Haroon Chakhansuri confirmed in a statement.
Recent violent protests by supporters of Gen Dostum's Junbish-i Milli party across several northern provinces have worsened an already febrile security situation. Demonstrators were angered by a government crackdown of strongmen, including Dostum loyalist militia leader Nizamuddin Qaisari, but later broadened their demands to include the return of the vice president.
Mr Tugra credited the protests with facilitating Gen Dostum’s return. “This was possible with people's sacrifices and hard work with 20 days of demonstrations,” he said.
Recent negotiations between key government officials and Gen Dostum may have placed conditions on his return, but they have not been made public. Mr Tugra, however, said that “no deal was made with the president” to enable his return.
Questions over pending legal proceedings against Gen Dostum remain unanswered. The vice president was accused of personally beating and then ordering the violent sexual assault of former ally Ahmad Ishchi in 2016.
During a subsequent investigation, Gen Dostum's refused to attend court hearings, causing a rift between him and government. Amid increasing tensions and hostility, Gen Dostum left for Turkey on the pretext of seeking medical attention. He has since been prevented from returning, with those close to him accusing the coalition government of conspiring to keep the controversial vice president out of politics.
President Ghani acknowledged the matter in a press conference last week but did not divulge details. “The return issue of Dostum is under deliberation… I have talked with the attorney general because it is a legal issue, more information on this regard would be shared later with you,” he told local media.
Gen Dostum has not been formally charged but presidential adviser Mr Chankhansuri said that "issues related to justice and judicial institutions” would be dealt with in accordance to the law.
Mr Tugra, however, dismissed concerns over potential legal proceedings. “He never had concerns about the legal procedures. This was a political case rather than legal,” he claimed, adding that not allowing Gen Dostum to return would have been unconstitutional. “It was illegal to keep him out of the country, in the first place,” he said.
The vice president has a reputation for barbarism. An ethnic Uzbek militia leader renowned for cruelty, Gen Dostum has ruled over much of northern Afghanistan for 30 years, attracting numerous accusations of human rights violations and potential war crimes ranging from suffocating hundreds of Taliban inside metal containers to ordering tanks to run over prisoners.
The opportunistic strongman has proven a problematic ally to President Ghani. While in exile Gen Dostum has retained his title of vice president and influence among ethnic Uzbeks of northern Afghanistan, who feel marginalised by what they see as President Ghani’s Pashtun favouritism in the country’s mix of different ethnic groups.
With parliamentary elections looming in October and a presidential contest due next year, tensions have risen sharply as Afghanistan’s strongmen jostle for position in President Ghani’s awkward unity government.