Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2023, 12:44 GMT

Afghanistan: Information on activities of Ismailis loyal to Sayed Kayan

Publisher United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services
Author Resource Information Center
Publication Date 7 July 2004
Citation / Document Symbol AFG04002.REF
Cite as United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Afghanistan: Information on activities of Ismailis loyal to Sayed Kayan, 7 July 2004, AFG04002.REF, available at: [accessed 23 May 2023]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Does any evidence exist linking the Ismaili Shia sect in Afghanistan and/or its leader, Sayed Kayan from Baghlan Province, to terrorism or mistreatment of others?



Sayed Mansur Naderi, also referred to as Syed Nadir Kayan or Sayed Mansoor Naderi (Nadiri), is a prominent Afghan in Baghlan Province, and is widely recognized as the leader of the Ismaili Shia sect in Afghanistan. His son, Sayed Jaffar (Jafar) Naderi, also plays a prominent role in Afghanistan.

Part I of this response provides background information on the Ismaili Shia sect in Afghanistan. Part II includes biographical information about the Naderi family. Part III examines the Naderi family's possible links to terrorism and/or human rights abuses — notably the family's relationship to Afghan General Abdul Rashid Dostam (Dostum).


According to an undated online version of the WORLD ENCYCLOPEDIA, Ismailis in Afghanistan are "found primarily in and near the eastern Hazarajat, in the Baghlan area north of the Hindu Kush, among the mountain Tajik of Badakhshan, and amongst the Wakhi in the Wakhan Corridor... Ismailis in Afghanistan are generally regarded with suspicion by other ethnic groups and for the most part their economic status is very poor... The pir or leader of Afghan Ismailis comes from the Sayyid family of Kayan, located near Doshi, a small town at the northern foot of the Salang Pass, in western Baghlan Province. During the Soviet-Afghan War this family acquired considerable political power" (WORLD ENCYCLOPEDIA undated). The spiritual leader of all Ismailis world-wide is the Agha Khan, who currently resides in France (Hindokosh May 2003).

"Decades of unrest, mass killings, and flight to other nations, have made it accurately estimate the population or status of any of the constituent ethnic or regional groups in Afghanistan" (Levinson 1998). About 99% of the country's population of around 23 million are Muslims— 84% Sunni Muslims and the rest Shi'ite. A small number of Afghanistan's Shi'ite Muslims adhere to the Ismaili sect (EUROPA 2002).


A. Sayed Mansur Naderi

The Resource Information Center (RIC) was able to find only a limited amount of information on the biography of Sayed Mansur Naderi (also known as Syed Nadir Kayan or Sayed Mansoor Naderi or Nadiri).

According to an Afghanistan expert at the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research: "Pir Sayed Mansur Naderi is a former Vice President of Afghanistan. He is an Ismaeli Shia, leader of the Naderi Clan of Ismaelis. He holds the honorary title of Sayed of Kayan, one of the highest honors in the Islamic world, and he is one of the most respected men in Afghanistan" (US. DOS/INR 27 May 2004).

According to a May 2003 report by Hindokosh, a private news agency in Afghanistan, Sayd Mansur Naderi and his followers have harassed Ismailis who are loyal to the worldwide Ismaili spiritual leader, the Aga Khan, who lives in France. The report states: "Those linked with Sayd Mansur Naderi not only pressurize the followers of the Ismaili sect of the Aga Khan, but they have also stopped Aga Khan welfare organizations from distributing aid among the people in that region and they were warned to evacuate the region, or their belongings would be looted" (Hindokosh May 2003). The report, which said that around eight people were wounded in clashes involving his followers in northeastern Baghlan Province in May 2003, described Sayd Mansur Naderi as a renegade local Ismaili leader who refused to submit to the Aga Khan's authority over Ismailis. "Sayd Mansur Naderi and his sympathisers also belong to the Ismaili sect, but they are not on good terms with the international leadership of the Aga Khan," the report said (Hindokosh May 2003). "Sayd Mansur Naderi is not willing to give up his obedience to the leadership of the Ismailis in Afghanistan on the order of Karim Aga Khan, the world leader of the Ismaili sect" (Hindokosh May 2003).

A 2003 report by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, a London-based group that works with journalists in developing countries, states that local Afghan officials in the Kayan Valley in Baghlan Province were trying to restrict the influence among Afghan Ismailis of "Sayed Mansoor Nadiri..., the leader of all Ismailis in Afghanistan" (Samander 24 Jan 2003). The local military commander appointed another Ismaili, Alaudin Shah, as local leader of the Ismailis, a move that was resisted by ordinary Ismailis, who accused Alaudin of physically abusing community elders, according to the report (Samander 24 Jan 2003).

A 2002 report by an online news service in India, News, suggested that "Syed Nadir Kayan" was a local Ismaili leader seeking to boost his influence in Baghlan Province and trying to "unsettle" the governor there, who was loyal to Hamid Karzai's interim government in Kabul. The article, which focused on regions of instability across Afghanistan, did not provide further details ( 13 Feb 2002).

B. Sayed Jaffar Naderi

The RIC was able to locate some significant facts regarding the biography of Sayed (Seyed or Seyyed) Jaffar (Jafar) Naderi (Nadiri), also known as Sayed Jaffar, son of Sayed Mansur Naderi.

Sayed Jaffar Naderi is sometimes referred to as the leader of the Ismaili community in Pul-i Khumri, Kayan, and Dowshi in Baghlan province, and at other times referred to as the son of the leader of Ismailis in Afghanistan, Sayd Mansur Naderi (afgha.comB undated, Gall 16 Dec 2001, 13 Feb 2002). 1996 press reports describe Naderi's "Ismaili sect" as "small but well-armed" (AP 10 Nov 1996, BERGEN RECORD 12 Oct 1996).

Press reports indicate that at age 10, Sayed Jaffar Naderi was sent to live in England when his father became a political prisoner in Afghanistan. At age 13, Naderi was sent to the US, where he lived in Allentown, Pennsylvania, as Jeff Naderi, until his father summoned him back to Afghanistan when Sayed Jaffar Naderi was about 15 years old (Gall 16 Dec 2001, AP 19 Dec 2001, Solomon 29 Oct 2001). Naderi was the subject of a 2001 MSNBC National Geographic Explorer special report, which was an updated version of a 1998 British made-for-TV film featuring Naderi and his troops (AP 19 Dec 2001).

A 1993 Amnesty International report lists former Afghan army general Seyed Jaffar Naderi as Governor of Baghlan province at that time (AI 1 Sep 1993). A 2001 press report states that Naderi was appointed governor of Baghlan at age 24 (Solomon 29 Oct 2001).

According to an email from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research representative contacted by the RIC: "Sayad and his Ismaili tribe had spent much of their time in Baghlan Province, but were reportedly driven out of Baghlan in late 2001 under a cloud of 'bad publicity' and into Balkh Province... Sayed was also known in some circles as an aide to President Karzai, and traveled with TISA [Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan] Foreign Minister Abdullah to Tokyo in 2002, and was said to have been under consideration (along with a couple other Karzai aides) for the position of Afghan Ambassador to the US (in 2002)" (U.S.DOS/INR 26 May 2004).

C. The Naderi family during the Taliban era

Information garnered by the RIC indicates that the Naderi family was forced to flee from Baghlan during the reign of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

A 1998 press report states that "Mansoor Naderi and his son Jafar Naderi [took] refuge with the Shia faction in Bamiyan province after evicted [sic] by Taliban from their safe abode" and that Naderi's family members had been sent to France (Khan 6 Sep 1998). A 2001 article quotes Sayed Jaffar Naderi as stating that in 1998, Taliban fighters forced him and his troops out of Kayan through the Hindu Kush mountains (Solomon 29 Oct 2001).

According to the 2003 news report by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, a number of Ismailis were jailed for several weeks in late 2002 and early 2003 after they tried to travel to Kabul to meet Naderi upon his return from Uzbekistan, where he lived in exile while the Taliban were in power. Specific dates of Naderi's exile are not provided. The report also described Naderi as being close to Afghan Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostam (Samander 24 Jan 2003).


A. Links to Terrorism

An October 2001 WASHINGTON TIMES article cites "[a] March 9 [2001] memo from Russia to the U.N. Security Council [listing] 55 camps, offices and residences used by Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden and his associates in Afghanistan" (Gertz 3 Oct 2001). The list of facilities includes "[a] center in the home of the Ismaili leader Said Mansur Naderi in the Kayan ravine in Baghlan province" (Gertz 3 Oct 2001). The article does not indicate whether the Kayan ravine "center" allegedly used by Osama bin Laden and/or his associates was known to or supported by Naderi.

The RIC contacted an Afghanistan expert at Boston University who stated that "anything is possible" but also said he believes it is "highly unlikely" that the Naderi family had cultivated any alliance with bin Laden. The expert said a home belonging to the powerful and wealthy Naderi family would likely be a "compound" of sorts, and certainly would be one of, if not the most, desirable "homes" in that area. The expert said it is more likely that if bin Laden and/or his associates indeed operated out of the Kayan ravine, they simply squatted in a "home" belonging to the Naderi family, if not Mansur Naderi himself, and used it for their own purposes, because the Naderi family probably was forced to flee their traditional strong-hold during Taliban rule [see Section II.C]. Even if the family was not occupying the home at the time, local people likely would continue to consider and refer to the building itself as the Naderi home because landmarks are often used as "addresses" in rural areas in Afghanistan (BU Expert 24 Jun 2004).

B. Northern Alliance

According to the Boston University expert contacted by the RIC, Sayed Jaffar Naderi was an important leader in the Northern Alliance (BU Expert 24 Jun 2004). For background information on the Northern Alliance / United Front, see RIC Response to Information Request AFG0000l.REF, AFGHANISTAN: BACKGROUND ON THE ANTI-TALIBAN GROUP, THE NORTHERN ALLIANCE, 14 December 1999.

In 2001, Human Rights Watch reported many violations of international humanitarian law on the part of United Front forces from 1996 to 1998 when they "controlled most of the north and were within artillery range of Kabul" and also from the end of the Najibullah regime in 1992 to the take-over of Kabul by the Taliban in 1996, during which time the United Front amassed "a deplorable record of attacks on civilians" (HRW Jul 2001).

Various groups including, but not limited to, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) have loudly protested the resurgence and reclamation of positions of power of Northern Alliance leaders since 2001 (RAWA 13 Nov 2001, HRW 6 Oct 2001, AI 2004). The INDEPENDENT (UK) states: "[I]t remains a fact that from 1992 to 1996, the Northern Alliance was a symbol of massacre, systematic rape and pillage" (Fisk 13 Nov 2001).

C. Links to General Abdul (Abdur) Rashid Dostam

There are clear indications that Sayed Mansur Naderi and his son did form an alliance with Afghan General Abdul Rashid Dostam (also spelled Dostum). Dostam, a controversial ethnic Uzbek warlord, currently is the Deputy Defense Minister in Hamid Karzai's interim government ( undated, undated).

According to the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Intelligence and Research representative contacted by the RIC, "General Abdul Rashid Dostam has been associated with Sayed Jaffar Naderi since 2002, and reportedly provided safe haven and protection to Sayed for a brief period in 2002" (U.S.DOS/INR 26 May 2004). Undated information posted on, Sayed Jaffar Naderi's militia was "[a]llied with Dostum's militias to serve the communist regime under soviet occupation. Naderi's 80th armoured division, based in Pul-i-Khumri, defected to the Mujahideen in 1992, and followed Dostum's alliance shifting afterwards..." (Afgha.comB undated).

According to a 1995 Amnesty International report, Dostam controlled Baghlan Province jointly with "Jaffar Naderi, head of the Ismaili community there" (AI 29 Nov 1995). Naderi also controlled a section of Kunduz, the province just north of Baghlan (AI 1 Sep 1993). "Sayed Mansoor Naderi" is listed in a 1993 Amnesty International report as jointly controlling Samangan province with General Dostam and Jamiat-e Islami under the command of Ahmad Shah Masood (AI 1 Sep 1993).

According to the 1995 U.S. Department of State report on human rights in Afghanistan:

"In October [1995],... Mamoor Ghayyur, former governor of northern Baghlan Province and Hezb-I-Islami member, and 15 others were ambushed and killed while travelling in Baghlan Province. Local press accounts suggested that NIM-allied [National Islamic Movement, headed by General Dostam] General Jaffar Naderi ordered the assassination" (U.S.DOS Mar 1996).

General Abdul Rashid Dostam, "[a]long with General Mohammed Fahim and Ismail Khan...was one of three factional leaders that comprised the Northern Alliance" ( undated). A BBC article reports that General Dostam "is a controversial figure who has often changed sides in Afghanistan's complex web of shifting alliances," and was the leader of the second largest party in the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance" (BBC 25 Sep 2001). The GUARDIAN describes General Dostam as "[a] ruthless Northern Alliance warlord with a reputation as a serial betrayer, having allied himself with almost every Afghan leader of the past two decades" (MacAskill 23 Nov 2001).

"In 2001, [Dostam] returned from exile on the heels of a U.S.-led bombing campaign that drove the Taliban from power. Since then, he has run parts of the country's north as his own fiefdom, nominally serving as a deputy defense minister in the national government in Kabul but operating almost totally independent of the government. In November of 2002 the United Nations began an investigation of alleged human rights abuses by Dostum. Witnesses claimed that Dostum jailed and tortured witnesses to prevent them from testifying in a war crimes case. Dostum is also under suspicion for the events of the Dasht-i-Leili massacre" ( undated). Dostum has been implicated in the fall 2001 deaths of hundreds of prisoners who were loaded into containers, shipped across the country, and suffocated along the way. Those who survived the trip claim they were starved and tortured by Dostum's men in the prison compound where they were held for over two years (Thorne 30 May 2004, Hanley 20 Aug 2002).

"In March of 2003, [Dostum] established a North Zone of Afghanistan, against the wishes of interim president Hamid Karzai. On May 20, 2003, Dostum signed an agreement to no longer serve as Karzai's special envoy for the northern regions. Forces loyal to Dostum continue to clash with forces loyal to Tajik General Atta Mohammed. Within his areas of control, [Dostum] encourages women to live and work freely, as well as music, sports, alcohol, and allows for people of other religions. It is claimed that during the civil war he financed his army through opium trading" ( undated).

According to Amnesty International, before the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan fell in 1992, then-President Najibullah had agreed to a UN-brokered transfer of power to a transitional government that hopefully would return law and order to the troubled country. Yet "[d]ays after the fall of President Najibullah's government, old hostilities between the Mujahideen [mujahidin] groups erupted into violent clashes...between on the one side...Hezb-e Islami ([Gulbuddin] Hekmatyar)" and on the other side "the combined forces of Shura-e Nazar (Supervisory Council of the North) and Jamiat-e Islami under the command of Ahmad Shah Masood, supported by the militia of General Dostum" (AI 29 Nov 1995). The latter grouping of forces was known as the United Front or Northern Alliance.

A GUARDIAN (UK) article states the following about the 1992 siege of Kabul: "Dostum's mounted militia from Jowzjan province, who had previously fought against the mojahedin without mercy, fell upon the civilian population [in Kabul], leaving many dead in their wake. The factions set up roadblocks every 100 metres, dividing the city into a mosaic of conflicting territories and embarking on a spree of looting, rape and summary execution against their ethnic rivals" (Griffin 16 Nov 2001). A 2001 Human Rights Watch report states that Sayed Jaffar Naderi and his forces participated in the 1992 capture of Kabul (HRW Jul 2001).

Although Naderi and his forces were involved in the 1992 take-over of Kabul, the Boston University expert on Afghanistan contacted by the RIC stated that he believes it is unlikely that Naderi and his forces participated in driving the Taliban out of Kabul and Mazar-i Sharif in 2001. The expert noted that Naderi's forces draw their numbers from the small Ismaili community in Baghlan. For the most part, the expert said, smaller ethnic-based militias in Afghanistan, such as Naderi's, tend to remain within their traditional region of control, unless there is a compelling reason for them to fight. The expert pointed out that Baghlan province does not border Kabul, and that the community of Ismailis in Kabul numbers only a smattering of families— not enough to draw Naderi and his fighters to Kabul in order to establish influence and/or defend the Ismailis there (BU Expert 24 Jun 2004). The expert also stated in an email to the RIC that another reason the Naderi forces probably were not involved in the 2001 attacks on Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif is that the Taliban controlled the Pul-i-Khumri region during that time (BU Expert 7 Jul 2004). The expert said that while Dostam's troops are mostly Afghan Uzbeks, Dostam and his men are unique because they were trained by the Soviets to be a "mobile strike-force;" so while Dostam often is implicated in fighting throughout Afghanistan, typical ethnic militias such as that commanded by Naderi generally are not (BU Expert 24 Jun 2004).

In regard to political alliances in Afghanistan, the Boston University expert emphasized that the often-shifting political alliances among Afghan leaders do not at all imply a "hand-in-glove" relationship between leaders and groups. He noted that Baghlan, particularly the Pul-i Khumri area, is a strategically important area in regard to travel through the north of the country. He said that Dostam likely required some kind of alliance with the Naderis in order to move freely through the Pul-i Khumri area. The expert said that while Sayed Jaffar Naderi was an important leader in the Northern Alliance, and that "certainly no Northern Alliance leader is blameless" as to supporting, permitting, and/or perpetrating human rights abuses in Afghanistan, he had not heard that the Ismailis have been involved in Dostam's more notorious purges of Taliban fighters or Pashtun civilians in areas such as Kabul, Mazar-i Sharif, and other areas heavily populated by Pashtuns (BU Expert 24 Jun 2004).

An April 2002 Human Rights Watch report on abuses against ethnic Pashtuns in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban includes about six pages on incidents in Baghlan province, particularly in the Nahrin District (Qona Qala, Baraki, Lakan Khel, Jadran, and other Pashtun villages) and the Kilagai Valley of Baghlan (HRW Apr 2002). The perpetrators of the abuses in Baghlan are referred to as Jamiat forces, or "...Dostum's own, mostly Uzbek, military forces, as well as Hazara and Tajik soldiers" (HRW Apr 2002, HRW Jun 2002). Seyed Jaffar Naderi is not mentioned in the report nor in Human Rights Watch's follow-up to the report in June 2002, in which Dostam's reception of the report is detailed (HRW Jun 2002).

This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC within time constraints. This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.

References: "Who Is Who: Dostum, Abdur Rashid" (undated, website copyright 2004), [Accessed 6 Jul 2004] (afgha.comB). "Who Is Who: Naderi, Sayed Jaffar" (undated, website copyright 2004), [Accessed 3 May 2004]

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