Sunday, October 13, 2013

Afghan warlord who trained Bali bombers nominates for presidency

Abdul Rasul Sayyaf: announced his candidacy this week

A former Islamist warlord who trained 9/11 terrorists and the Bali Bombers has nominated to run for the Presidency of Afghanistan

Abdul Rasul Sayyaf announced his candidacy this week, three days ahead of the deadline, by driving a motorcade of armed mujahideen through the capital Kabul.

The 67-year-old warlord, also allegedly the man who invited Osama bid Laden to live in Afghanistan and made a base for his al Qaeda network there, had long been rumoured to be putting together a ticket of resistance fighters for the April 5 poll.

‘‘I don’t want fame or power for myself,’’ he said, lodging his papers at the electoral commission, ‘‘I’m looking to preserve the nation.’’ Sayyaf, who fought against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 80s, was named in the 9/11 Commission Report as the ‘‘mentor’’ of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the principal architect of the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
He also ran militant training camps throughout the 80s and 90s in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Ten of the men involved in the 2002 Bali bombing, including Mukhlas and bomb-maker Umar Patek, are believed to have trained at Sayyaf’s Sadda militant camp near Peshawar.

Two hundred and two people, including 88 Australians, died in the Bali blasts. Patek is serving 20 years in jail, Mukhlas was executed by firing squad.

Sayyaf was an enemy of the Taliban, however, and sided with the US after its 2001 invasion.
While he is the most conservative of the four men who have nominated for President so far, especially on women’s rights and social freedoms, he is seen as a credible contender for power, especially given his close links to the incumbent President.

The horse-trading for who will run for President of Afghanistan has reached its zenith as this Sunday’s deadline for nomination approaches.

With political parties almost non-existent, ideologies and policy platforms fluid, most of the manoeuvring ahead of the deadline involves building a ticket with sufficiently diverse tribal and geographic representation to attract broad support.

A candidate’s ‘‘vote bank’’ — swathes of support built by years of pork-barrelling, protection, and promises of more — along with ability to raise money are key criteria too.

The accepted wisdom appears to be that a Pashtun, Afghan’s largest ethnic group, should head the ticket, supported by a Tajik and a Hazara as nominees for the vice-presidential roles (there are two).

President Hamid Karzai is constitutionally banned from running for a third term, but the Karzai name is still expected on the ballot paper.

President Karzai’s older brother Qayum Karzai, is expected to nominate before the deadline, and will attract considerable support from those loyal to the first family.

Qayum has run a restaurant in Baltimore for more than two decades, but he is also heavily involved in the back-channels of Afghan politics. His business dealings in the south of country have attracted allegations of serious corruption.

But the favourite for the April poll will be Afghanistan’s main opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah.

Dr Abdullah leads the National Coalition of Afghanistan and was runner up to Karzai in the first round of voting in the 2009 election. He dropped out of the run-off vote alleging massive voter fraud.

Dr Abdullah, an ophthalmologist by profession, is of Tajik and Pashtun descent, and has included a Pashtun, Mohammad Khan, and a Hazara, Mohammad Mohaqeq, as his running mates.
Both vice-presidential candidates are former warlords however, and their selection has led to criticism an Abdullah Presidency would bring little reform.

Dr Abdullah was close to anti-Communist mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud in the late 1980s, and was part of the alliance that toppled the Taliban in 2001. He was President Karzai’s foreign minister until he resigned to join the opposition in 2006.

The president is an all-powerful position in Afghanistan’s nascent, and fragile democracy.

There are few checks and balances on the power of the office, which has given rise to persistent and credible allegations that Hamid Karzai has abused his position, indulging in undisguised patronage, and benefiting from his administration’s endemic corruption.

Whoever succeeds Karzai as President inherits a challenging mandate, reviving a moribund economy, maintaining security as foreign troops leave, and brokering a peace with the Taliban.
But despite the problems facing their democracy, Afghans are enthusiastic about the opportunity to cast a ballot. A recent survey found 79 per cent of Afghan adults intended to vote.

The Taliban has vowed to derail the elections. Gunmen shot dead a provincial election commissioner in a busy street in Kunduz last month.

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