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Afghanistan

Former warlord campaigns to succeed Karzai

Candidate welcomed bin Laden in 1990s

  • Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, center, attends a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

    Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, center, attends a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

  • Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf attends a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

    Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf attends a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

  • FILE - In this Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, file photo, Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, an influential lawmaker and religious scholar, waves at his supporters after registering his candidacy for the 2014 presidential election in Kabul, Afghanistan. While Sayyaf is not the only former warlord among the 11 candidates in the April 5 election to succeed President Hamid Karzai, he appears to have sparked the greatest worry among Westerners because he is seen as having a viable chance at winning. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)

    FILE - In this Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, file photo, Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, an influential lawmaker and religious scholar, waves at his supporters after registering his candidacy for the 2014 presidential election in Kabul, Afghanistan. While Sayyaf is not the only former warlord among the 11 candidates in the April 5 election to succeed President Hamid Karzai, he appears to have sparked the greatest worry among Westerners because he is seen as having a viable chance at winning. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)

  • Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf speaks during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

    Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf speaks during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

  • Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, center, arrives at a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

    Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, center, arrives at a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

  • Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, at the podium, speaks during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

    Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, at the podium, speaks during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

  • Afghans listen to a speech by an Afghan presidential candidate Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

    Afghans listen to a speech by an Afghan presidential candidate Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

  • Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf speaks during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

    Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf speaks during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

  • Afghans listen to a speech by Afghan presidential candidate Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

    Afghans listen to a speech by Afghan presidential candidate Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

  • Afghan presidential candidate and former Islamist warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf speaks during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

    Afghan presidential candidate and former Islamist warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf speaks during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

  • Afghans listen to a speech by Afghan presidential candidate Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

    Afghans listen to a speech by Afghan presidential candidate Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

  • Afghans listen to a speech by Afghan presidential candidate Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

    Afghans listen to a speech by Afghan presidential candidate Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

  • Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf attends a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

    Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf attends a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

  • Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, center, attends a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
  • Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf attends a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
  • FILE - In this Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, file photo, Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, an influential lawmaker and religious scholar, waves at his supporters after registering his candidacy for the 2014 presidential election in Kabul, Afghanistan. While Sayyaf is not the only former warlord among the 11 candidates in the April 5 election to succeed President Hamid Karzai, he appears to have sparked the greatest worry among Westerners because he is seen as having a viable chance at winning. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)
  • Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf speaks during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
  • Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, center, arrives at a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
  • Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf, at the podium, speaks during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
  • Afghans listen to a speech by an Afghan presidential candidate Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
  • Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf speaks during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
  • Afghans listen to a speech by Afghan presidential candidate Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
  • Afghan presidential candidate and former Islamist warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf speaks during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
  • Afghans listen to a speech by Afghan presidential candidate Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
  • Afghans listen to a speech by Afghan presidential candidate Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf during a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
  • Afghan presidential candidate and former warlord Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf attends a campaign rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014. Sayyaf, who has been accused of war crimes and atrocities during the 1990s, appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul on Thursday and laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls in the field of 11 vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

He has been called a mentor to accused Sept. 11, 2001, mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the man who welcomed Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan in the 1990s. He was accused of war crimes and atrocities, and even has a terrorist group named after him in the Philippines.

But these days, Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayyaf has refashioned himself as an influential lawmaker, elder statesman and religious scholar – and possibly the next president of Afghanistan.

While Sayyaf is not the only former warlord among the 11 candidates in the April 5 election to succeed President Hamid Karzai, he appears to have sparked the greatest worry among Westerners because he is seen as having a viable chance at winning. Other front-runners include Abdullah Abdullah, who was the runner-up to Karzai in the disputed 2009 elections; Qayyum Karzai, a businessman and the president’s older brother; and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister and academic.

“Afghanistan still depends on the goodwill of foreign donors for nearly all of its government’s budget,” said Graeme Smith, senior Afghanistan analyst with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. “A Sayyaf win would probably really test those relationships because foreign donors might not be thrilled by some of his positions.”

Still, when Sayyaf appeared before thousands of supporters in Kabul yesterday, he laid out a vision for Afghanistan’s future that bore striking similarities to the policy platforms of many of the more moderate presidential hopefuls.

Staunchly anti-Taliban, Sayyaf spoke of the importance of fighting corruption and boosting security and the rule of law. He expressed an openness to signing a security deal with the United States as well as support for women to work in professions prohibited under the Taliban.

“We are surrounded by threats, therefore we need to have close relations and deep relations with the whole world,” Sayyaf said.

Pointing to the small number of women in the audience, he said, “Women, we will be sure to defend your rights and your dignity.”

To loud applause, Sayyaf said women should be permitted to become doctors and teachers, and that he wants to provide a good atmosphere for their education – but one which should be “safe” for women. Allowing images of women on items such as soap boxes is an affront to their dignity and not a way to protect them, he added.

His message resonated with 19-year-old Qudsia Sharifi, who noted the struggles women like her face in Afghanistan.

“I like Sayyaf because he is a professor and he said from his mouth that he’s supporting women’s rights,” she said. “I’m very happy.”

The candidate’s message yesterday seemed geared at broadening his appeal. Telling the packed audience that he had no shoes, pens or notebooks as a child, Sayyaf, a charismatic orator, said he had seen poverty firsthand and knows “the difficulty of the people.”

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