Abdul Rasul Sayyaf ( ahb-DOOL rə-SOOL sy-YAHF; Pashto: عبدالرسول سیاف, born 1946, Paghman, Kabul Province, Afghanistan) is an Afghan politician and former mujahideen commander. He took part in the war against the PDPA government in the 1980s, leading the Afghan mujahideen faction Ittehad-al-Islami (Islamic Union).
During the war, he had close relations with Saudi Arabia and he received support from Arab sources and mobilized Arab volunteers for the mujahideen forces. Sayyaf is said to have been the one who first invited Osama bin Laden to take refuge in Afghanistan (Jalalabad), after bin Laden's 1996 expulsion from Sudan by the otherwise sympathetic Sudanese régime under Saudi, Egyptian, and American pressure. He was a member of the Northern Alliance, despite his close relationship with Saudi Arabia that supported the opposing Taliban militia.
In 2005, Sayyaf's Islamic Union was converted into a political party and he was elected as a member of the Afghan Parliament. He maintains political influence.
Sayyaf is an ethnic Pashtun. Sayyaf (سياف) is an Arabic word that means "swordsman." He is fluent in Arabic and holds a degree in religion from Kabul University and a masters from the illustrious Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. He has been described as "a big, beefy man with fair skin and a thick gray beard." Sayyaf is reported to be approximately 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) in height and weigh 250 lb (110 kg). "He usually wears a white skullcap or a large turban, and a traditional Afghan partug kameez, a tunic with loose pants." He was also noted for his photographic memory; Abdullah Anas, one of the leading Afghan Arabs, recalls in his memoirs that "once when the hugely influential Abu'l Hassan al-Nadawi, known as the Syed Qutb of India, was delivering a lecture at Kabul University, Sayyaf translated the whole lecture into Persian word for word without mistakes after the former had finished delivering the entire lecture."
Sayyaf was a member of the Afghan-based Ikhwan al-Muslimin, founded in 1969 by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Dr. Burhanuddin Rabbani and having strong links to the original and much larger Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Ustad (Professor) Abdul was a professor at the Shariat (Islamic law) faculty of Kabul University until 1973, when he plotted with his group to overthrow President Mohammed Daoud Khan. The uprising attempt in July 1975, in Panjshir Valley, failed significantly and he was forced to flee to Pakistan but was arrested when he returned. However another account claims Sayyaf was not part of the plot but was merely arrested by the government for his ideology.
As a warlord
Soviet war and Bin Laden friendship
Being imprisoned by the Communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) in April 1978, he was freed in controversial circumstances by General Secretary Hafizullah Amin, who, coincidentally, happened to be Sayyaf's distant relative. Although, by virtue of him being incarcerated, and, consequently not arriving in Peshawar until 1980, until after the actual Soviet intervention, he was recognized by the Pakistanis as the leader of the Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan (Ittihad-i-Islami Baraye Azadi Afghanistan), a coalition of several parties fighting the Soviet and Afghan government forces. The Islamic Union soon imploded, and Sayyaf retained the name as the title of his own organization. After presenting his organization and the jihad to Arabs in Saudi Arabia, Sayyaf is thought to have been most responsible for internationalizing the Afghan jihad against the Soviets, and thus creating a vocal point of concerns to Muslims in the Middle East. Sayyaf further made a name change and growing his beard very long, which were symbols of his close relations with the royal Saudis and their Wahhabist tradition. The Saudi General Intelligence Presidency tried to coerce the leaders of the other mujahideen movements to accept Sayyaf as their leader. In 1980 Prince Turki bin Faisal invited the major mujahideen leaders to a conference in Taif and locked them in a jail until they agreed to accept Sayyaf's command, but they reneged on the agreement immediately after being freed.
Sayyaf fought against government forces and Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan during the 1980s, and was generously financed, and apparently favoured, by Saudi Arabia, seemingly due to his close religious affinities with the Wahhabist Saudi Royal and religious establishment and above mentioned excellent command of the Arabic language. During the jihad against the Soviet Union and its Afghan allies, he formed a close relationship with Osama bin Laden. Together in the Jalalabad area they established a training camp network, later used by Al-Qaeda personnel, with bunkers and emplacements. In 1981, Sayyaf formed and headed the Ittihad-i-Islami Baraye Azadi Afghanistan, or Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan. In 1985, he founded a university in an Afghan refugee camp near Peshawar called Dawa'a al-Jihad, (Call of Jihad), which has been described the "preeminent school for terrorism." Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, attended it.
Despite his growing wealth, he continued to live a spartan life, avoiding modern conveniences like mattresses and air conditioning; although he enjoyed a nightly game of tennis.
During the post-war period, Sayyaf retained his training camps, using them for militarily training and indoctrinating new recruits to fight in Islamic-backed conflicts such as Chechnya, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in the Southern Philippines, where his name inspired the Abu Sayyaf group.
Also, in these camps, Sayyaf trained and mentored the soon-to-be-infamous, Kuwaiti-born, future Al-Qaeda operative and senior commander, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, after being introduced by the latter's brother, Zahid, during the Afghan Jihad in 1987.
Battle of Kabul
After the forced withdrawal of the demoralised Soviet forces in 1989, and the overthrow of the Mohammad Najibullah regime in 1992, Sayyaf's organization's human rights record became noticeably worse, underlined by their involvement in the infamous massacres and rampages in the Shia Hazara-majority Afshar district of Kabul in 1992-1993 during the Battle of Kabul. Sayyaf's faction was responsible for, "repeated human butchery", when his faction of Mujahideen turned on civilians and the Shia Hezb-i Wahdat group in west Kabul starting May 1992. Amnesty International reported that Sayyaf's forces rampaged through the neighborhood, slaughtering and raping inhabitants and burning homes. Sayyaf, who was allied with the de jure Kabul government of Burhanuddin Rabbani, did not deny the abductions of Hazara civilians, but merely accused the Hezb-i Wahdat militia of being an Iranian agent.
Opposition to the Taliban
Sayyaf claimed and claims he is a vituperative opponent of the like-minded Taliban movement, which is the reason he officially joined the Northern Alliance, despite his aforementioned religious and ideological affinities with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Sayyaf was initially the only Pashtun leader part of the Northern Alliance fighting against the Taliban. Sayyaf is rumored to have helped Arab suicide assassins to kill the Northern Alliance leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud. He is also rumored to have helped during their preparations, raising suspicion he was involved in killing Massoud. Sayyaf's forces participated in the Northern Alliance's capture of Kabul during the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
2003 Constitutional Loya Jirga
In 2003, Sayyaf was elected as one of the 502 representatives at the Constitutional Loya Jirga in Kabul, chairing one of the working groups. Originally wanted Loya Jirga intended to divide the 502 delegates randomly among 10 working groups, but Sayyaf objected, suggesting delegates be divided among the groups to ensure equal distribution of professional expertise, provincial origin, gender and other criteria. "Those who know the constitution, the ulema [Islamic scholars], and the lawyers should be split into different groups so that the results of the discussion and debate will be positive, and closer to each other," said Sayyaf.
Abdul Sayyaf's influence in the convention was felt further when his ally Fazal Hadi Shinwari was appointed by Hamid Karzai as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in violation of the constitution, as Fazal was over the age limit and trained only in religious, not secular, law. Shinwari packed the Supreme Court with sympathetic mullahs, called for Taliban-style punishments and renewed the Taliban-era Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which was renamed the Ministry of Haj and Religious Affairs.
Member of parliament
He launched his newly converted Islamic Dawah Organisation of Afghanistan party in 2005 and was elected as a member of parliament that same year in parliamentary elections. Later in 2005 he was running for Speaker of the Lower House, where he surprisingly gained the support of Muhammad Mohaqiq, an ethnic Hazara and former member of the Hazara militia that fought against Sayyaf's militia in west Kabul in the 1990s. Although Sayyaf lost the Speaker election to Yunus Qanuni, Mohaqiq's support helped to fix the relationship between Sayyaf and Hazaras.
During his years as MP and in the 2010s, Sayyaf has become an influential elderly lawmaker, presenting himself as a "voice of wisdom". He was noted as being having the "greatest authority" to speak on religious matters. Sayyaf was a loyal supporter of the incumbent president, Hamid Karzai. However he controversially supported a bill granting amnesty for former mujahideen warlords accused of crimes in the past.
On the first anniversary of Burhanuddin Rabbani's assassination, Sayyaf spoke at a gathering saying that the actions of suicide bombers are against Islam and unforgivable by God.
Sayyaf announced himself as a candidate for the President of Afghanistan in the 2014 election, campaigning in fighting against corruption and in favor of women's rights. He received 7.04% of the vote in the first round, as the candidate for the aforementioned Islamic Dawah Organisation of Afghanistan, and winning Kandahar Province.
In 2015, Sayyaf strongly criticized the Taliban in a speech, calling their actions "un-Islamic" and called the group "slaves of Pakistan" – his remarks were widely hailed by different Afghan social segments. On proposed peace talks with the Taliban in 2018, Sayyaf commented that peace is the "order of Allah".
In April 2019, Sayyaf was chosen by President Ghani to chair the four-day loya jirga for peace efforts, attended by 3,200 representatives in Kabul. He called for unity in his opening remarks. In his main speech, Sayyaf stressed the importance of women's rights, saying "The Prophet of Islam is also a descendant of a woman", and called defending women a "religious principle". This countered reports from the western press that he is a hardliner opposed to women's rights.
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