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Warlord accused of rights abuses awarded Afghanistan’s highest military rank

U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, James B. Cunningham signs the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with Afghan National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar and NATO Ambassador Maurits Jochems signs the NATO Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) on behalf of allies in Kabul on Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014. (U.S. State Department/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A powerful Afghan warlord accused of kidnapping and raping a political opponent and of committing rights abuses for decades has been given the country’s highest military rank.

Former Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum, 66, was awarded the rank of marshal in a special ceremony on July 15, making him only the third such recipient in the Afghan armed forces.

The rank was given to Dostum at a ceremony in his home province of Jawzjan as part of a power-sharing deal between President Ashraf Ghani and his main opponent Abdullah Abdullah after months of tension following a disputed 2019 election.

Dostum backed Abdullah in the election.

Speaking at the ceremony, Dostum warned the country’s political leadership that they must put their rivalries aside, or otherwise the Taliban would win the war.

Under a February agreement between the United States and the Taliban, the government must release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners ahead of intra-Afghan talks, while the militant group should release up to 1,000 government prisoners.

Speaking at the ceremony, Abdullah said that all Taliban prisoners would be released and asked the group to refrain from creating more excuses to block the path of the peace process.

Dostum is an ethnic Uzbek warlord who fought against the Taliban alongside U.S. forces in 2001.

In 2016, Dostum, then vice president, was accused of kidnapping, torturing and raping ex-Jawzjan governor Ahmad Ishchi, a political rival, with a rifle barrel.

At the time, Ghani forced Dostum into exile in Turkey.

Dostum returned to Afghanistan in July 2018 and settled in Jawzjan after huge numbers of people demonstrated in his favor in several provinces.