MuslimTimes(Web Desk) – People in northern Afghanistan have demonstrated to keep alive a demand for the return of exiled Vice President Abdul Rasheed Dostum.
On the seventh day of demonstrations on Tuesday, protesters tore down pictures of President Ashraf Ghani while threatening that they could cut highways and power lines, bringing electricity from neighboring Uzbekistan to the capital Kabul.
Their major demand is for Ghani to coordinate the return of Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek leader and a member of Ghani’s current national unity government, who has not returned to Afghanistan since he went to Turkey for medical treatment last year.
The protests erupted last week after Nizamuddin Qaisari, a local police commander loyal to Dostum, was arrested.
Dostum went into exile after he was accused of torturing and sexually assaulting his political opponent Ahmad Ischi. There has been speculation that he may return to Afghanistan despite objections by the United States and other Western backers of Ghani’s government.
The violent protests once again underline the tough challenge for Ghani to organize fair parliamentary elections in October in the face of increasing ethnic divisions in the country. Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmen people who live mostly in western and northern Afghanistan always accuse Ghani of favoring his own ethnic supporters in the Pashtun community, which dominates the south and the east.
The unrest also comes against the backdrop of optimism for the beginning of peace talks between the government and Taliban after the two sides agreed on a three-day ceasefire at the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Some Afghan officials have claimed that the ceasefire last month helped ease violence by Taliban despite the fact that the militants rejected an extension offer from Ghani’s government and resumed attacks on civilians and security forces across the country.