Afghan First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum has rejected allegations that he and his bodyguards assaulted and abducted a political rival at a sports event in northern Afghanistan last week.
The incident allegedly occurred in Dostum's native Jowzjan Province on November 25 during a game of "buzkashi," an Afghan version of equestrian polo.
Reports of the outburst prompted a minor backlash against Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek former warlord widely suspected of permitting or personally ordering wartime atrocities in the 1990s and 2000s.
The 62-year-old Dostum was said to have assaulted politician Ahmad Ishchi before the vice president's bodyguards beat him further and then whisked him away to one of Dostum's properties, where he was reportedly held against his will for several days.
In a statement posted on Facebook late on November 29, Dostum rejected allegations that he or his bodyguards attacked Ishchi, a former governor of Jowzjan, or held him hostage.
Dostum said Ishchi, who is also a member of Dostum's Junbesh party, was arrested by security forces on charges of "financing militant groups" and "contributing to insecurity in the province."
"This individual was under investigation for providing support to militants," Dostum's chief of staff, Enayatullah Babur Farhamand, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan.
Rahmatullah Turkistani, the security chief of Jowzjan, said Ishchi was being held by security forces, but did not provide further details.
Ishchi's family, which says it has not heard from him since the alleged incident, rejected such charges against him and said he was beaten and kidnapped by Dostum's bodyguards over a personal feud between the two former allies.
Ahmad Ishchi's son, Batur, claimed that his father was taken by Dostum's bodyguards to one of the vice president's properties, where he was forcibly held until November 29.
Batur said his father had since been moved to police custody.
"It's not like he was taken away in the middle of the night," Batur told RFE/RL. "There were 5,000 people at the event. Everybody knows what happened."
Batur acknowledged that his father and Dostum had "political differences," adding that the two had quarreled at the buzkashi event before the alleged assault.
Hundreds of protesters have staged days of demonstrations in front of one of Dostum's properties in the provincial capital, Sheberghan, since the purported clash, calling for Ishchi to be freed.
Dostum, a controversial figure, has come under a storm of criticism from lawmakers and rights activists over the alleged incident.
"In Afghanistan, the laws are always violated when a politician is supposed to face justice," said Saleh Mohammad Saljoqi, a lawmaker from the western province of Herat, decrying the power in the hands of former warlords and militia commanders.
"Parallel governments have been established," said Ainuddin Badahuri, the head of the Afghan Lawyers Union. "People are punished privately. This seriously weakens the central government and questions the country's judicial centers."
President Ashraf Ghani has yet to comment on the incident.
Long History Of Accusations
Dostum, one of the country's most notorious former militia commanders, has been accused of a litany of crimes in the past several decades.
A onetime communist boss whose own 20,000-strong militia patrolled northern Afghanistan during the war against Soviet occupation in the 1980s and the civil war of the 1990s, Dostum's forces at the time were accused of resorting to rape, looting, and grisly killings -- including crushing criminals with tanks in public executions.
He has been accused by rights groups of involvement in the deliberate killing of up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners in shipping containers, either by shooting or suffocation. He has denied the allegation.
For the past two years, Dostum has rallied armed villagers, his former militiamen, and Afghan security forces to battle Taliban militants threatening to overrun his native homeland in northern Afghanistan.
Last year, locals in areas under control of the militias complained of a range of abuses at the hands of the irregular forces, including rape, extortion, arbitrary arrests, and theft.