Commander of the Uzbek faction within the Northern Alliance, General Dostum is a key player in the current conflict in Afghanistan.

Dostum was born in 1954 in Juzjan province in Northern Afghanistan. During the early years of Soviet occupation, he was a trade union chief on a gas field. He soon became head of a powerful Uzbek militia supporting the communist administration of President Najibullah during the 1980's. He fought against the US-backed Mujaheedin from his stronghold in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif. So instrumental was he in keeping Najibullah in power that he was awarded the title "Hero of the Republic of Afghanistan".

However, in 1992 Najibullah was under increasing pressure from Commander Masood's Mujaheedin forces. Dostum switched sides, effectively tipping the balance and resulting in the Mujaheedin taking power in Kabul. Initially, Dostum supported the new government under President Rabbani but soon rebelled joining Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in shelling the capital.

Helped by endemic infighting, the emergent Taleban marched on Kabul in 1996 pushing Masood back to the Panjshir valley. Dostum and Masood formed the Northern Alliance to resist further Taleban incursions. However, Dostum was unable to prevent the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif in 1997. He fled to Turkey leaving General Abdul Malik in command. His return three years later lifted morale thoughout the Nortern Alliance.

Backed by Russia, Iran and India, Dostum retained control of a substantial swathe of territory south of the Uzbekistan border. Russia has supplied tanks and missiles. They are anxious to prevent the fundamentalist Taleban from gaining control of the Central Asian Republics north of Afghanistan.

Abdul Rashid Dostum is a bearish man who invariably is attired in Soviet style military uniform. He abhors the brand of Islamic fundamentalism imposed by the Taleban in areas under their control. Under his control, the people of Mazar-i-Sharif and in parrticular the women, enjoyed relative freedom. His ultimate ambition, say some, is to emulate the achievements of the great 14th century Uzbek, Tamerlane.

Update 10-11-01: General Dostum's forces have liberated Mazar-i-Sharif with the aid of US air power.