Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf - a former warlord during Afghanistan’s civil war, a jihadi leader against the Soviet occupation in the 1980’s, the namesake of a Philippine terrorist group, and a widely respected religious leader - has just formalized his bid for president of Afghanistan. According to The New York Times, Mr. Sayyaf and his supporters held their first campaign rally in the Afghan capital yesterday.
In spite of his tumultuous past, Mr. Sayyaf “has refashioned himself as an influential lawmaker, elder statesman and religious scholar,” according to an AP article posted Thursday on The New York Times’ website. He even claims to support women’s rights, including allowing them to become doctors and teachers and receive formal education. "I like Sayyaf because he is a professor and he said from his mouth that he's supporting women's rights," 19-year-old Qudsia Sharifi told the AP. "I'm very happy."
Mr. Sayyaf further substantiates his moderate stance by admitting that Afghanistan may need continued foreign support in the short term. Current Afghan president Hamid Karzai is hesitating to sign an agreement that would allow U.S. troops to remain on the ground in Afghanistan after NATO forces withdraw, and he may end up leaving the decision to his successor. Mr. Sayyaf’s extremist background may bake it difficult to gain the trust of foreign leaders, thus making foreign engagement a non-issue, but one can’t blame him for trying.
"Sayyaf is probably in the eyes of many ordinary Afghans the candidate with the strongest religious credentials, with the greatest authority to speak on matters of religion," Graeme Smith, senior Afghanistan analyst with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, told the AP. "We shouldn't count out Sayyaf.”