Afghanistan’s attorney general has ordered the arrest of nine of the vice-president’s bodyguards after a rival politician alleged he was raped and tortured.
The warrants were issued after Abdul Rashid Dostum and his bodyguards ignored three summons for questioning over accusations that they beat the victim in public and held him for five days while the guards sodomised him with a rifle.
The case could be a pivotal test for the Afghan government’s ability to break a decades-old culture of impunity and hold high-ranking officials accountable.
President Ashraf Ghani has promised to work to deliver justice. But his shaky administration partly rests on powerful commanders with pasts chequered by human rights abuses, who could respond to pressure with confrontation.
“The government has lost so much trust and confidence from the people because it hasn’t done enough to fight corruption and impunity,” said Sayed Ikram Afzali, executive director of Integrity Watch in .
“If the government fails to deal with the situation seriously, I’m not sure it can restore public confidence.”
Dostum is a veteran commander of the civil war, long accused of war crimes. In 2014, Ghani controversially put him on his election ticket to secure the vote of the Uzbek minority, which Dostum largely commands.
Dostum to his compatriots for “past mistakes” during the civil war, but did not admit to any rights abuses.
The alleged victim, Ahmad Ishchi, 63, is a former governor of the northern Jowzjan province. The alleged incident happened in late November while he was attending a traditional game of , a type of polo where horse riders fight over a headless goat carcass.
When Dostum spotted Ishchi, he allegedly punched him in the face and put a boot on his chest, before his bodyguards hauled Ishchi away in an armoured vehicle.
Ishchi subsequently alleged that his captors beat and sexually abused him. Medical examinations at the US Bagram airbase and at a government-run hospital in Kabul showed a significant wound next to the victim’s rectum, according to the New York Times.
“They have made it seem as if he was an 18-year-old girl who was taken and done something wrong to,” a spokesman, Bashir Ahmad Tayanj, , referring to Ishchi.
Spokesmen and advisers to Dostum could not be reached on Tuesday. They have previously rejected the allegations as “baseless”.
The case is the most prominent yet to hit the table of Mohammad Farid Hamidi, who was appointed attorney general last year.
After a decade as a highly regarded human rights commissioner, the 48-year-old went to Harvard, but cut his master’s studies short to take up his new role. In his first few months, he shook up the ranks in his office, opening investigations into 30 staff members.
Most recently, in the first in a series of slated cases against corrupt military personnel, he led the charge against a former general who was jailed for 14 years for receiving $150,000 (£120,000) in bribes.
However, the biggest culprits in the country operate on a vastly different scale. Few expect them to face a courtroom.
It is not just Afghans who will watch Hamidi’s ability to hold strongmen accountable. International diplomats are also increasingly dismayed by the government’s inability to bring people to justice.
“The president has been talking about rule of law, but he hasn’t even been able to control people close to him,” said Afzali.
He suggested Dostum might try to cut a deal with Ghani, sacrificing his bodyguards as scapegoats to remain in his position.
But that might not be enough to instil confidence in donors, he said. “There is a lot of international pressure. Something has to happen.”