Afghanistan's first vice president escaped unharmed from an ISIS-claimed suicide bomb blast near Kabul airport as he returned home on Sunday after living in exile for more than a year
Former Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum narrowly escaped the suicide bomb attack after returning to the country from the cold after facing allegations of torturing and abusing a political rival.
The bomber detonated his suicide jacket at a celebration held to receive the vice president, the militant group said in its claim of responsibility issued through its self-styled news agency, Amaq. It gave no further details.
Mr Dostum's charter plane landed in Kabul late Sunday afternoon, where he was received by several Afghan officials, including Second Vice President Sarwar Danish, and a massive crowd of supporters in and around the airport.
Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said that 14 people, including both civilians and military forces, were killed in the attack and 50 others wounded. The victims included an AFP news agency employee. This is the second AFP employee to have been killed in an attack in Kabul this year.
An eyewitness, an official close to Gen Dostum who was at the airport to receive the vice president, described seeing several bodies on the street outside the airport and said that the explosion had ruined the spirit of the day.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani strongly condemned the attack in a statement issued by the presidential palace.
Mr Dostum faced outrage from Western donor countries including the United States after reports surfaced in 2016 that his guards had seized Ahmad Ishchi and subjected him to beatings, torture and violent sexual abuse. Mr Dostum left Afghanistan in 2017 after the attorney-general's office launched an investigation into the allegations.
He denied Mr Ishchi's accusations but, amid international demands that he be held accountable, Mr Dostum he left the country in May last year, ostensibly to seek medical treatment in Turkey.
The former warlord has since reportedly been barred by the government from returning to Afghanistan. It was not immediately clear whether Dostum will now face any charges.
Despite the explosion and the cloud hanging over Mr Dostum, a large crowd of his supporters had gathered at Sedarat Palace — the vice president’s office — in Kabul to participate in a welcome ceremony. Among them was Humaira Mohammadi, a female Junbish party member from Baghlan province, who travelled to Kabul to welcome Get Dostum.
“I cannot express my happiness in words. We are delighted that our leader is back to our homeland,” she told The National.
While the controversial vice president left Kabul on pretext of seeking medical attentions, officials close to him confirmed that his return to Afghanistan was prevented over the past year. But following the recent protests in the north against the arrest of a strongman — Nizamuddin Qaisari — a figure close to Gen Dostum, the Afghan government was forced to negotiate his return.
The allegations of torture and abuse against Mr Dostum and his men are still to be tackled. However, for many of his supporters, the general is seen as a victim of politics.
“The case was plot against our leader. The government knows he’s innocent,” Mohammad Nasim Rahmani, the deputy of Junbish party in Faryab province, the party’s stronghold and the centre of the recent protests, declared with strong conviction in his voice. Ms Mohammadi agreed with equal certainty: “This is not a legal case. It is political. Long before this case, there was a plan to attack Gen Dostum in Ghormach district of Faryab.”
Many of his supporters see his return as a personal victory. “We are very excited to our leader return. This is one of the demands we have raised in our protests in the last 20 days and this is the result of our demonstrations ,” said Mr Rahmani.
During the very first public address in over a year, the former warlord urged his supporters to end the protests and allow the reopening of the northern trade routes that had been closed over the last two weeks.
Hundreds of the Junbish party followers, many of whom travelled from northern provinces to welcome him, cheered as he promised to talk to the Afghan president and address the matter of Mr Qaisari’s arrest.
Mr Dostum will resume his position as the country’s vice president and is expected to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Monday. He will discuss a range of issues such as the Faryab protests, Mr Qaiseri’s arrest and the mishandling of his guards. Atta Noor, the former governor of Balkh, also attended the welcome ceremony and mentioned the formation of a new political coalition in Afghanistan during his speech.
Mr Rahmani, who participated in the protests in Faryab, confirmed to The National that they would oblige the demand of their figurehead and end the protests in the north.
“We will follow our leader’s commands from here on,” he said.