From the jihad wilds of Africa, Central and Southeast Asia an Afghan warlord has emerged as an unlikely favorite to become his country’s next president. Abdul Rasul Sayyaf – blamed for the deaths of thousands – has declared his candidacy for polls due later this year and political insiders say his chances are better than good.
Sayyaf’s ties have included Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the Southeast Asian terror outfit Jemmah Islamiyah (JI) and the widely loathed Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) from the Southern Philippines. The ASG adopted his name after he trained Filipino members for jihad in Africa in the 1990s.
“Throughout the jihads and his Islamic wars he was responsible for the deaths of many thousands of people,” one Western advisor to the government of Hamid Karzai said. “But that is not necessarily a handicap in this part of the world and he is held in high regard by many people that matter.”
Karzai will stand down at elections due in April next year, at the end of his second term, as mandated by the constitution. That will clear a path for Sayyaf, who is one of three early favorites for the top job. The other two are Abdullah Abdullah, who almost won four years ago, and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister. Both are well known quantities where Sayyaf is not.