Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum returns to Afghanistan

For more than a year after fleeing the country during an investigation into the rape and torture of one of his political opponents

Afghan Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum is back in Kabul on Sunday, more than a year after fleeing the country during an investigation into the rape and torture of his political rival.

The influential Uzbek leader, who has been linked to serious human rights abuses in Afghanistan, traveled from Turkey to Kabul where he greeted by senior officials at a special ceremony.

General Dostum’s plane landed at Kabul International Airport at 1600 hours (1130 GMT).

Dostum’s return, the subject of much speculation amid violent protests in a number of states in northern Afghanistan, is his main traditional stronghold.

Thousands of Dostum supporters have taken to the streets in recent weeks, attacked government offices and closed roads, demanding the return of Dostum and the release of the leader of a pro-government armed group.

Observers say that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has allowed Dostum to return to the country to curb unrest.

Dostum left Afghanistan in May 2017 after being accused of masterminding the rape and torture of his political rival, but he denied the information and said he left the country with his family for medical checks and family reasons.

Ghani, who is a Pashtun, described Dostum in 2009 as a “known murderer”, however he chose the Uzbek leader to run for vice president in the presidential vote, stressing the ethnic reality of Afghan politics.

Dostum’s return to Afghanistan comes ahead of the 2019 presidential election and is expected to run for Ghani, who is unpopular among the Pashtuns.

Presidential spokesman Harun Shakhansuri said Saturday that Dostum had been “treated” and would resume his duties after his return.

Seven of Dostum’s bodyguards were accused of sexually assaulting Ahmed Ishji, governor of the northern state of Gozjan in 2009, and illegally detaining him.

Dostum reportedly kidnapped Ishji in Guzjan and then held him in a special compound for days when he said he had been tortured and raped.

Shakhansuri didn’t explicitly answer the question of whether Dostum could be tried in the case.

“The judiciary is an independent body and the government does not interfere in its decisions”, he said.

Dostum is one of several controversial figures in Kabul who have sought to return to the political arena since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Dostum, who helped the United States oust the Taliban in 2001, is believed to have caused hundreds of prisoners to die from suffocation in containers.

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