The paternal half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, considered one of the most powerful men in the country’s politics and an important lieutenant to the president, was shot and killed in Kandahar on Tuesday morning. The assassination of Ahmed Wali Karzai serves as a serious blow to the president’s bid to maintain, or to be seen as maintaining, security in the country.
Ahmed Wali Karzai was allegedly shot twice by Sardar Mohammed, head of Karzai’s personal security detail who had served his boss for 10 years. Mohammed was then shot and killed himself after the incident. The Taliban took responsibility for the attack.
A Taliban spokesperson told the BBC that it was one of their most important achievements in the last decade. However, there is some dispute as to whether or not the militant group actually carried out the attack.
“For such a tragic event to happen to someone within his own family is unfathomable,” said the chief of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, in a statement. “I strongly condemn the actions by anyone who played a role in this murder,” added Gen. David H. Petraeus.
The incident is one of the most high-profile assassinations in the past decade of war in the country. It comes as NATO and the Afghan government are trying to ensure stability as the United States prepares to pull out 33,000 troops by the end of 2012, on its way to the goal of complete withdrawal by 2014. When that deadline hits, the Afghanistan government will be solely responsible for security in the country.
The assassination could be a game changer, according to an analysis by Kamran Bokhari for global intelligence company Starfor.
Based in Kanhadar, the younger Karzai was considered to be the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan, where U.S. and NATO troops have been battling militants along the border with Pakistan. He was a key component in the president’s effort to cultivate support among the family’s own ethnic group, the Pashtuns.
Bokhari writes that only the semblance of stability that President Karzai has traditionally had, came from Western support. More recently, the president had been looking toward the Pashtuns to be his support base once the United States and NATO withdraw so that “the country does not descend into civil war or worse, a complete anarchy because his regime would not be able to withstand the onslaught of the insurgency.” The murder calls that strategy into serious question.
Despite the important role Ahmed Wali Karzai played for his brother, he was a highly controversial figure, accused of drug trafficking and using his power to influence local commercial and business networks. He has also been accused of working for the CIA, which he denied.
Karzai was also in control of a number of private security providers, or groups of mercenaries that operated in the country without permits or regulations, that were also involved in trafficking illegal narcotics and responsible for human rights abuses, according to a report by the Center on International Cooperation, from September 2009.
The president’s brother was so strong, that an Institute for the Study of War analysis by Carl Forsberg in April 2010, described Wali Karzi’s influence over Kandahar as “the central obstacle to any of ISAF’s governance objectives, and a consistent policy for dealing with him must be a central element of any new strategy.”
According to Forsberg, “Karzai has used his informal power and his connections to the Afghan state to give him shadow ownership of the government of Kandahar.”
NATO had been trying to change that to lend more authority and power to the government of Kandahar Gov. Tooryalai Wesa. Maj. Gen. Nick Carter of ISAF, in May 2010 described Karzai as a reluctant leader filling a power gap.
“It’s also my sense that, in relation to Ahmed Wali Karzai, he would tell you—and he’s either a candidate for an Oscar or he’s the most maligned man in Afghanistan—that he is trying to help his country, that he’s trying to help us, and he’s trying to help his people,” Carter told reporters via satellite from Kandahar.