Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pakistan Role in Afghan War Upsets Key General's Men but Will Rashid Dostum Be Kingmaker or Peacemaker in Conflict?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pakistan Role in Afghan War Upsets Key General's Men but Will Rashid Dostum Be Kingmaker or Peacemaker in Conflict?

Article excerpt

Suddenly, Abdul Rashid Dostum is the man to watch. The northern Afghan warlord currently holds the delicate balance of power in a country largely destroyed by 18 years of war and brought to the brink in recent weeks.

Courting General Dostum are both the recently ousted government in Kabul and its archenemies, the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban militia. Until recently, Dostum had been content to watch these varying forces pummel each other.

But the fall of the capital, Kabul, and the Taliban's northward march into Dostum's territory made the enigmatic former Communist think again. When he suddenly found Taliban troops on his doorstep earlier this month, he hastily dispatched his forces to head them off. That move and his recent attempts to broker a cease-fire between the warring factions, have thrust him into the spotlight and the question on every one's lips is: "Which way will he jump?" In the past two weeks, he signed a defense pact with Ahmad Shah Masoud, the legendary military commander of the ousted government. The pact promises to defend the other if attacked by a third party. Dostum has also met with the Taliban's acting foreign minister, Mullah Ghaus, and Pakistan's interior minister, Naseerullah Babar. Mr. Babar is widely believed to have a big say in the running of the Taliban, if not the final say. He has made six visits here in the past week and sources close to Dostum, who commands most of northern Afghanistan, say they find it strange that Pakistan's interior minister is negotiating on behalf of the Taliban. They say Babar was not invited and has no visa to enter Afghanistan. The current joke in town is that Babar has not realized there is a border and thinks he is still in Pakistan. When asked about Pakistan's involvement, Babar said "When you are trying to bring peace it's not interference. When you are doing something for your own purpose, then yes, it's interference...." Western observers in Dostum's stronghold and regional administrative center, believe he is backing and will continue to back the ousted government. "Dostum has nothing in common with the Taliban," says one observer. …

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