General Rashid Dostum
Dostum was one of the most colorful and capable captains in the Soviet-mujahideen war. Born poor, Dostum went to the Soviet Union for his education, and his political opportunity was the meritocracy of war. He rose to power at the head of the Jowjzan, an Uzbek militia which fights with AK47s on horseback. Dostum is a staunch enemy of Islamic fundamentalism since they prevent the enjoyment of women and whisky. For almost a decade he ruled an independent kingdom in the north with a heavy but capable hand and the support of the Soviets. Dostum had a battlefield genius only matched by Masud and a political adaptability unique amongst Afghan warlords.
Sometimes called “the wrestler” because of his burly physique and bombastic style, Dostum crushed a thief under tank treads and frightened a prisoner to death with his ogreish laughter. When his men balked, Green Berets watched as Dostum attacked an anti-aircraft gun alone. At Mazar-e-Sharif he jumped from his horse to the lead Taliban tank and slew the man in the turret. These acts were part of heroic combat leadership, capable of turning an ordinary militia into a powerful force (United States officers quit leading from the front above the rank of lieutenant, the lowest officer grade). Not just an aggressive leader, Dostum enjoyed terrifying his enemies on the radio with creative threats. He ignored the technicalities of laser targeting and told the Taliban the Americans had a “Death Ray”. Playing on their misogyny, he promised a dishonorable death at the hands of a female pilot he called the “Angel of Death”. Dostum was a terrifying foe to his enemies, but he had compassion too. With thousands of Taliban trapped in Konduz, and the Green Berets advocating bombing them into oblivion, Dostum walked into the town by himself to negotiate a surrender.
In 2002, after a decade of civil war, Dostum was in danger of prosecution for war crimes, so he was quick to adopt a business suit and forge political ties with the new leader, Karzai. Dostum ran for president in 2004, taking only 10% of the vote. He could not win, but he established himself as willing to fight by ballot box, and he is now the only warlord with legitimacy based on proven public support. Hamid Karzai recently named Dostum chief of staff for the new national army, possibly because Dostum can be a powerful ally, helping Karzai fend off the Panjishir militia led by Fahim. If Afghanistan descends into war again, Dostum will play a major role.