Noted surf enthusiast and former mujahideen Dana Rohrabacher has concerns. Mainly because things in Afghanistan are not going all that well. And he figures the best way to fix that is by supporting people like Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum. Who despite allegations that he’s murdered prisoners of war and raped political opponents with an assault rifle is the kind of person that the honorable representative from California wants on Team America in Afghanistan.
Afghans like Vice President Dostum, who are willing to risk their lives to defend their communities and families against radical extremists, should not be vilified as part of a narrative that suggests that minority communities in Northern Afghanistan can be deliberately targeted and killed by Islamic extremists. At the same time, Americans cannot target Taliban units in Pashtun areas if a civilian might be unintentionally harmed. This double standard cannot stand.
And if it were just the Big Kahuna of Kalashnikovs that thought that people like Dostum should be working for the US in the graveyard of agreeable alliances, Roharabacher’s recent missive on how to win all the things would be notable, but not worrisome. But he’s not the only one, and Dostum’s not the only one on the list of questionable actors that the Americans have allied themselves with over the years.
My Top 3 for “People We Should Probably Avoid But We’re Likely To Give Guns To Anyway” includes Ghani’s first vice president, a CIA-sponsored terrorist hunter in the east, and a provincial police chief who probably orders a LOT of electrical wire for jails that have no electricity. And that’s not just an Americans-In-Afghanistan problem. It’s a symptom of pragmatic foreign policies that will always put American interests first. And by American interests we mean “things that will get people re-elected.”
You say ‘vilified’ like it’s a bad thing
Rohrabacher’s biggest problem in dealing with all things Dostum is that Dana spent a lot of time in Afghanistan helping people shoot at other people. That kind of thing tends to narrow one’s perspective. And if the standard of excellence is, “Helps me kill people before they kill me,” then Dostum probably gets a couple of gold stars.
Because he was useful during the initial attack on Afghanistan, where his troops as part of the Northern Alliance were key to running the Taliban out of town. Well, most of the Taliban. Some of those Taliban were taken prisoner by Dostum’s forces, stuffed into shipping containers, and when they suffocated, buried in mass unmarked graves.
Dostum has denied that any of this happened. Despite more than a smidge of forensic evidence to the contrary. And more than a few witnesses who were willing to come forward and tell people they saw it happen.
Which won him few fans, including his current boss, Ashraf Ghani. The Afghan president in 2009 called Dostum a “known killer,” a statement he later walked back when he needed Dostum’s Uzbek influence in the 2014 Afghan elections. And while Ghani is known to be the shouter-in-chief, he’s also not prone to unsourced allegations.
Over the years between the shipping containers and today, Dostum’s not been on his best behavior, either. He’s made several trips to Jawzjan to drive out the Taliban, which doesn’t make him popular with Ghani. Since vice presidents are supposed to be presidential, and not lead troops into battle.
Then there was what could have been a major incident last spring. Dostum had planned a trip to the United States to meet with sympathetic Americans. The State Department was less than enthused with this, and quietly informed the Afghan government that Dostum would be denied a visa if he tried to go forward with the trip. Dostum, as he often does, had his own explanation:
Asked about his aborted visit, Mr. Dostum said in an interview on Saturday with Voice of America radio that the tenuous security situation at home had required him to cancel the trip, which was to include an address to a special session of the United Nations General Assembly on narcotics trafficking (something Mr. Dostum has been accused of profiting from).
Then last month Dostum may have out-Dostum’d himself when he reportedly kidnapped a rival, Mr. Ahmad Ishchi. Ischchi claims that during his captivity he was beaten by Dostum himself, and at one point was raped with an assault rifle.
Dostum denies this, as well.
All of which, if we’re to understand Rohrabacher correctly, is propaganda designed to bring Dostum down. And Roharabacher goes further, insinuating that others in Kabul may be ready to rid themselves of at least one vice president.
In October, while traveling in convoy through Faryab Province, Dostum and his entourage were ambushed. More than fifty of his bodyguards were killed and many more were wounded. Dostum barely escaped with his life. This attack deserved the strongest of condemnations. It has been hard to discern any negative response by the Obama administration.
To be fair, not the first time that one of Dostum’s convoys has come under attack. And it’s possible that the Taliban weren’t the ones doing the shooting. Since Dostum’s made himself a few enemies over the years. But Rohrabacher’s not done.
Suggesting something sinister, National Army forces and other government-controlled security units moved away from the vice president hours before the attack. Dostum was left with only his personal security detachment to defend him. The incident exemplifies the indifference the Pashtun government has to defending non-Pashtun areas against Taliban and ISIS attacks. This does not bode well for those struggling to create a decent and stable society.
If you’ve got well over 50 people running around with you, that’s not a personal security detachment. That’s half a company of infantry, and seems like a lot of firepower for a vice president to have at his disposal. Whoever attacked him brought enough guns to the fight to kill a bunch of people. Do we really think the presence of Afghan forces would have made any difference in what happened?
So Rohrabacher’s hints and allegations aside, we’re still left with a key member of the duly elected Afghan government who’s at least had some pretty serious allegations leveled at him. And enough evidence and witnesses to those allegations that they’re more than just rumors and baseless accusations. Which means what exactly for the relationship between Washington and Kabul?
The same thing we do every intervention
We need to understand that American foreign policy has never had anything to do with foreign and lot more to do with America. Because we think nationally, not globally. Always.
So it’s never about what’s best for the country the US is involved in at the time. It’s about what’s best for American interests. And those interests are best served by whoever’s elected. Because those are the people who care very much about those interests.
And more importantly about getting re-elected.
So they’ll do whatever it takes to move American foreign interests forward. And that’s how you get pragmatism. And how you get allies like Dostum. And Raziq. And Azizullah.
Because foreign policy, if it ever was, isn’t about the long game anymore.
It’s about getting the most results in the shortest amount of time.
Which means you make deals with people who get done what you need done right now.
And fuck the future.
That doesn’t mean that you sideline people you’d rather not work with, either. Because people like Dostum and his ilk still hold sway over a lot of people who like to carry guns. And those people will do whatever Dostum tells them to do with those guns.
Between a rock and sodomy by rifle
The Americans have been at war in Afghanistan for over 15 years.
Which means that thanks to more changes in strategy than costume changes in a Keeping Up with the Kardashians episode, the US has fought one war 15 different times.
It’s that kind of short-sighted, year-to-year approach that means that people like Dostum will always be part of the calculus.
And Dostum has his place, preferably in a glass case that says, “Break in the event of apocalypse.”
And at least he’s consistent. It’s not like there was ever a time when he pretended to be anything other than a man who maybe drives tanks over people. With Dostum, what you see is what you get.
And as far as some in the US government are concerned, they like what they see just fine.
Because Dostum? He’s the kind of man who can “establish regional militias and constabularies,” which is one of Rohrabacher’s solutions to the current situation in Afghanistan.
Sure, he’s an alleged murderer, kidnapper, and rapist. And he’s blowing off requests by the government to talk to his guards about what happened to Ischchi.
But he’s on our side.
And people like Dana Rohrabacher think we should keep it that way.