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Former Afghan Warlord Apologizes For Past 'Mistakes'

A defaced poster of former Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum posted in Kabul last year.
In an unprecedented move, one of Afghanistan's most notorious former warlords has apologized for his role in the country's brutal civil war.

General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former Uzbek militia leader who is accused of grave human rights abuses, said in a press statement on October 7 that he regretted his past actions.

"There were many mistakes made during the civil war," he said. "It is time we apologize to the Afghan people who were sacrificed due to our negative policies. I'm taking the first step, and I apologize to the people who suffered from the violence and civil war in the country."

'No White Doves'

The 1992-96 civil war, which saw different Afghan factions turn on each other after defeating the Soviet Union and the Afghan communist regime, left hundreds of thousands of civilians dead and left the country's infrastructure in tatters.

"There have been no white doves in the last two decades," added Dostum, who urged all factions and commanders involved in the civil war to offer apologies. "We want to usher in a new era where others will also bravely acknowledge their mistakes and prevent such incidents from happening in the future."

It is the first time a former warlord involved directly in the civil war has offered an apology.

Rafiullah Bidar, spokesman for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, welcomed Dostum's apology -- but said it was not enough. "[Dostum's apology] is important because it may heal the wounds of families of war victims," Bidar said. "But these apologies and words aren't enough and cannot replace actual justice."

Dostum, who recently stepped down as the chief of staff to the commander of the Afghan National Army, has been accused of war crimes committed during the civil war and consequent conflict with the Taliban when his militia was part of the former Northern Alliance.

He has been implicated in dozens of atrocities, including the massacre of civilians and prisoners and the indiscriminate destruction of towns and villages.

Most notoriously, Dostum is accused of allowing up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners to suffocate to death in metal shipping containers following the Taliban's surrender in the northern province of Konduz in December 2001.

Dostum has rejected the allegations.

More Than Just An Election

Despite their checkered pasts, former warlords such as Dostum still exert significant influence over the country's political affairs and have carved out high-ranking roles within the government.

A law was passed in 2007 by the Afghan parliament that pardoned and gave legal immunity to all individuals accused of war crimes and human-rights abuses.

Dostum's apology comes just a day after he formally filed his nomination to run in the April 2014 presidential election as the running mate of former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani.

READ NEXT: Familiar Faces and Warlords Set To Dominate Afghan Election Campaign

Ahmad Shuja, a research associate at Human Rights Watch, says the timing of Dostum's apology makes it likely that it is intended to boost his election chances. Nevertheless, Shuja says Dostum's apology gives the government an opportunity to move forward.

"What the apology does provide is for the government to follow up and build upon it and start a truly national and all-inclusive transitional justice program where the victims of war crimes can also be included in the process," Shuja says.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is acting editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.