KABUL -- Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, one of Afghanistan’s most prominent Islamist leaders, is running as a candidate in this April's presidential election.
In an interview with RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Zubair Zhman, Sayyaf, 65, dismissed allegations that he perpetrated human rights abuses during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s.
RFE/RL: What motivated you to run in this April's presidential election, given that you stayed away from contesting the first two presidential polls?
Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf: In the first two presidential elections, I considered it appropriate to back the incumbent [Hamid Karzai] because it was in the interest of our country and our nation. Personally, I was not inclined to run this time, but my friends and supporters insisted hard. In addition, I understand that committing to this process needed sacrifice and commitment and I have never backed away from such challenges.
RFE/RL: As you know well, the ongoing war against insurgency is Afghanistan's main challenge. What will you do to end fighting in the country?
Sayyaf: Ending the war in Afghanistan gradually requires a clear road map. Such a strategy needs a strong will for implementation. I think implementing a robust strategy can considerably reduce violence within three or four months.
RFE/RL: What will that strategy look like and can you give us some details?
Sayyaf: I do not want to divulge the fine details of our security strategy because we are in the midst of many conspiracies and feuds.
RFE/RL: Do you intend to concentrate on more concrete security measures as compared to engaging in a peace process with the insurgent?
Sayyaf: I have repeatedly said that peace requires clearly identifying many main issues. We need to identify the two parties involved in the conflict and need to be clear about their motives. We would also need to know what kind of political system we want and what causes the conflict. We need to clearly know what the rebels want and how can we tackle them. Unless these issues are clear we cannot take positive steps towards peace.
Right now the rebels are identified as the Taliban. I don't think they are Taliban. Tomorrow if I somehow convince [the Taliban leader] Mullah Mohammad Omar to stop fighting, the clandestine forces who control the insurgency can create new leaders and hardline movements.
RFE/RL: Who, in your view, is that powerful clandestine force?
Sayyaf: These forces are now so widely known that I don't need to name them. Now the international community and Afghans know that external interference causes such problems. Our neighboring countries in particular, unfortunately, still want to deny us peace by fomenting instability.
They think that it is in their interest. Although, we think that an independent Afghanistan is in the best interest of our neighbors. Instability in Afghanistan will also haunt their domestic stability.
RFE/RL: What is your take on signing the Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States, given that President Hamid Karzai has made new demands as a prerequisite to signing it?
Sayyaf: I don't think that you and I or anyone else is entitled to express an independent opinion about this issue. This is because the 2,500 members of the Loya Jirga [eds: grand assembly] have backed this pact [in November] as a representative forum of the Afghan people. How can I decide against the people's will?
RFE/RL: If elected, how do you intend to tackle the problem of pervasive corruption in Afghanistan?
Sayyaf: Corruption in our country originates from two sources. One is appointment of incompetent people to [senior] positions. The second one is the lack of a proper accountability mechanism that can apportion rewards and punishment. If you want to tackle corruption in our country we have to address these two issues.
RFE/RL: What is your vision for Afghanistan's economic development?
Sayyaf: Our country is rich in resources but we need to pave the way for utilizing our abundant resources. Unfortunately, we have so far failed to do so. We can only develop our resources if we establish peace, the rule of law and curb corruption.
RFE/RL: How do you view women’s rights?
Sayyaf: God has gifted women with rights. I support protecting those rights and defending them. So far, women have failed to enjoy their rights under the Islamic Shariah law. Women have a right to education, work and political rights. Along with protecting these rights, we also want to create an honorable atmosphere for enjoying these rights.
RFE/RL: Do you support calls for transitional justice in Afghanistan?
Sayyaf: I wholeheartedly support [transitional] justice, but only if it covers all aspects of the conflict from the beginning [in 1978] to the end, and the abuses are investigated and reported by just and impartial organizations. It is important that the people engaging in researching the abuses are completely neutral.
RFE/RL: Who do you think can do such investigations, the United Nations or someone inside Afghanistan?
Sayyaf: I think people inside the country can do it. There are a lot of people inside Afghanistan who remained neutral during the various wars. If you can have a neutral investigation from the beginning, nobody can dare to oppose it or question its findings.
RFE/RL: You and your Itehad-e Islami party are considered among the main actors in the civil war of 1990s. Do you see yourself responsible for atrocities committed during that period?
Sayyaf: I do not see myself and my party responsible for atrocities during the civil war. I have a lot of evidence to prove this. Two years before the civil war began, after the fall of the [last communist leader] Najibullah's regime in , conspiracies backed by outsiders were underway to foment a civil war. It was an imposed war and I can prove this with documents.