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Tuesday, July 12, 2011
AFGHAN BOILER: Why Ahmed Wali Karzai Was a Target!
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Many Afghans and American militarymen believed it was only a matter of time before he would be killed. Their predictions came true on Tuesday morning when Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half brother of the Afghan president and by far the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan, was gunned down by one of his own bodyguards inside his heavily fortified home in Kandahar City. For nearly the past decade he had acted as the region’s ultimate powerbroker. His death will doubtlessly unleash a power struggle among government officials, police and military officers, narcotics smugglers and tribal chieftains who kicked back a large share of their action made possible by his patronage.
His death could bring further turmoil to the strategic region. Without his firm hand to keep all those competing interests in check, southern Afghanistan could become less stable at a time when the U.S. military was confident that its surge forces had seriously weakened the insurgency in the Taliban’s strategic heartland. Over the past 18 months American forces had killed and captured thousands of insurgents, pushing them far away from the key populated areas they had long occupied. Karzai had long been seen as a crucial U.S. ally in the region. In 2009 it was widely reported that he had been on the CIA’s payroll for years. Not only had he provided a degree of stability through his vast patronage politics, the private militia forces that he had raised for the CIA took a heavy toll on the Taliban.
But U.S. militarymen also saw him as a liability. Although never proven, Karzai, 50, was widely accused of being at the center of the southern region’s multi-billion dollar narcotics industry, a charge he vehemently denied. His brother, President Hamid Karzai, also staunchly defended his brother’s innocence. Of late AWK, as the American militarymen called him, had become almost too authoritarian and powerful for his own good. He heavily favored his own tribe, the Popalzai, to the detriment of other clans who bitterly resented his partiality. This favoritism coupled with the fact that he sat atop of a pyramid of corruption ranging from shady real estate deals, to kickbacks on construction contracts, and getting his fair share of the shakedowns of truckers and buses at police posts and bureaucratic bribes certainly helped Taliban recruiters. “He was using all his power to get money from others, and even caused us to stop a road construction project,” says one Afghan aid official who declines to be quoted because of the sensitivity of his comment. “He had guns and money and was the king of Kandahar.” In the end, he may have overplayed his hand. There clearly was growing resentment toward him in the city and province. “There’s an undercurrent of anti-AWK sentiment,” said one American officer in the region last month. “Within six months you may hear a loud ‘pop’ in the city.”