Remember: Karzai is our “ally,” the man whom we have spent untold billions and destroyed innumerable lives to place in power and keep there. He was supposed to be the alternative to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
A What-Are-We-Fighting-For Update: “For President, Karzai Floats Islamist With bin Laden Ties,” by Yaroslav Trofimov in the WSJ via 24AllNews.com, August 14:
KABUL””President Hamid Karzai has suggested that the man who brought Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan could become the country”s next leader, say people familiar with discussions ahead of April’s presidential vote.
Former Islamist warlord Abdul Rasoul Sayyaf has emerged as an unlikely””and, to Western diplomats, unsettling””favorite in recent gatherings that aim to select a consensus candidate.
At an hourslong meeting with power brokers last week, President Karzai tried to persuade Atta Mohammad Noor, the main authority in northern Afghanistan and a potential kingmaker, to support a Sayyaf presidential candidacy, according to people with knowledge of the meeting.
Mr. Atta, the governor of the northern Balkh province and a former Tajik warlord, made no commitments to Mr. Karzai during the meeting””which these people said was also attended by Mr. Sayyaf, Vice President Mohammed Qassim Fahim and former warlord Ismail Khan. The details of the meeting haven’t previously been reported.
It is by no means certain that come April, Mr. Sayyaf, an Egyptian-educated religious scholar, would end up as the preferred candidate of Afghanistan’s government bureaucracy. But the fact that he is seriously considered by Mr. Karzai and other powerful Afghan politicians highlights the degree to which Western influence has declined in Kabul ahead of the U.S. troop withdrawal next year.
Western diplomats say that a position of power, let alone the presidency, for someone like Mr. Sayyaf would imperil the billions of dollars in international commitments to the country. “This would be a disaster,” one senior diplomat said.
Mr. Sayyaf declined to be interviewed. Mr. Atta’s spokesman confirmed that the Balkh governor met with Mr. Karzai in Kabul as part of discussions about the election, and said Mr. Atta hadn’t yet decided whom to support in April. A spokeswoman for Mr. Karzai, Adela Raz, said she had no comment on the matter.
Mr. Sayyaf’s name looms large in the history of militant Islam. Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist movement in the Philippines, is named after him. In the 1980s and 1990s, Mr. Sayyaf’s Saudi-backed movement ran training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan that were initially set up for anti-Soviet mujahedeen fighters, according to witnesses and the U.S. government’s 9/11 commission report. These camps eventually attracted thousands of Arab and international jihadis, including many whom fought in Bosnia and Chechnya.
Al Qaeda’s founder came to Mr. Sayyaf’s camps when he joined the anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s and returned to Afghanistan with Mr. Sayyaf’s help in 1996. Ramzi Yousef, the 1993 World Trade Center bomber, also trained in Mr. Sayyaf’s camps.
The 9/11 commission report described Mr. Sayyaf as the “mentor” of Khalid Shaikh Muhammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks who is currently incarcerated in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Bin Laden and al Qaeda ultimately found shelter under Afghanistan’s Taliban. Despite his conservative Islamist views, Mr. Sayyaf, an ethnic Pashtun from the Kabul province, before 2001 had joined with many other Afghan warlords in the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. After the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, he found himself a U.S. ally.
Despite his checkered record, Mr. Sayyaf enjoys a degree of support in Afghanistan, both because of his Islamic credentials and his past as a leading commander in the war against the Soviets. These factors also appear to give him a higher name recognition among ordinary Afghans than others inside the presidential establishment whose names have been mentioned as possible Karzai successors….