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The last Afghan president who stopped paying off this northern warlord ended up dead

Abdul Rashid Dostum and Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan
AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti
What Dostum, right, looks like when he is happy.
By Steve LeVine
AfghanistanPublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

By 1992, Najibullah, the Moscow-installed president of Afghanistan, had lasted three years as leader despite the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country. But then he ran out of cash to pay a stipend to an important warlord in the north of the country. The warlord, Abdul Rashid Dostum, responded by turning on Najibullah, forming an alliance with his enemies, and marching on Kabul. Najibullah was ousted by April.

We learn in the New York Times that the US is the latest to put Dostum on its payroll. With bags of cash channeled through Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Central Intelligence Agency pays up to $100,000 a month to Dostum.

Next year–a quarter century after the Soviet pullout–it is US forces who will withdraw from Afghanistan. The question is how long Karzai can hang on in the likely case that the CIA halts or lowers the millions of dollars in cash in all that has been dropped off at his office every month.

The money goes to buy off the loyalty of Karzai’s retinue, and the local strongmen around the country who at least nominally are on his side. This is the way that Afghanistan has been governed since the Raj—the folks in Kabul keep a flow of patronage to the regions, and the regions stay on their side.

After the NATO troops go, a foreign presence will remain in the form of oil and mining concerns in the north of the country, mainly from China, such as the China Metallurgical Group Corporation and the China National Petroleum Corporation.

Karzai is scheduled to step down as president next year, and so the only issue in his case may be if he can stay in Afghanistan once his term is over. But history has a lesson there, too. In 1996, when the Taliban marched into Kabul, among their first acts was to execute Najibullah.

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