Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Afghan Warlord Builds His Own Small Kingdom

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Afghan Warlord Builds His Own Small Kingdom

Article excerpt

In a shattered land ruled by warlords, perhaps no one is doing better than Rashid Dostam, a former communist army general who runs a formidable fiefdom from this dusty outpost.

Kabul, the capital, remains a battleground for Islamic factions that ousted the communist government last year and now pound each other with rockets. In the countryside, countless villages were destroyed during the decade Soviet soldiers spent in Afghanistan propping up a client regime.

In contrast to all this, Dostam controls a large, peaceful northern area and surveys it from a splendid villa with crystal chandeliers, a swimming pool and a satellite dish that pulls in Western music videos.

The emergence of powerful regional leaders such as Dostam could foreshadow a formal breakup of a multiethnic country whose central government has never exercised much control.

Dostam runs his own ministate in three northern provinces. In western Afghanistan, Ishmael Khan has proclaimed himself emir of a similar regional empire.

Both hold generally calm areas with functioning market towns such as Shibarghan, a timeless way station on the ancient silk route where camels and donkeys still outnumber cars. Men in turbans sell sweet, juicy melons along the streets. Slabs of meat hang in outdoor stalls.

Dostam, a husky man with bushy, black hair, claims he has no intention of setting up an independent state and says he wants to be part of a national, Islamic government.

But he is quick to point out the difference between the relative prosperity of his turf and the anarchic capital.

"I will be patient enough until the people of Afghanistan and the outside world put the blame on these people" in Kabul, "and then I will seek a solution," Dostan said in an interview at his villa.

Thousands of Kabul residents have fled to the northern provinces. More than 6,000 live at a U.N. refugee camp in Mazar-e-Sharif, the largest city under Dostam's rule.

"We had a good life in Kabul, but a rocket destroyed our house and it was looted," said Jamila Rahim, who lives in a tent with her husband and six children. …

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