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Ahmed Wali Karzai, “The King of Kandahar” Assassinated

Ahmed Wali Karzai, "The King of Kandahar" Assassinated

Ahmed Wali Karzai, President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother and, seemingly, sole proprietor of Kandahar-the birth place of the Taliban in Afghanistan–has been assassinated by a close family associate. The reason behind the assassination has not been revealed.

This news fundamentally roils politics, strategy and hedging in and for Afghanistan. Ahmed Wali, the most important linchpin of politics and peace in Kandahar, who wielded de facto executive power through his personal and political connections has just been removed from the scene of cagey politics he himself helped establish. Now no one knows what tomorrow and the day after, the week after, will look like in Kandahar. Any scenario one might picture is likely to be grim. Expect a round of assassinations as powerful families who head powerful tribes kill off each other to secure effective power in Kandahar.

Consider that politics in Afghanistan is nothing but clientelistic exchange. NATO and its principal backer in Afghanistan, the United States, has been exchanging money, gifts and promises of contracts for some variant of predictable peace. Ahmed Wali Karzai, though head of the near powerless Kandahar provincial council–another man occupies the role of governor of Kandahar- nevertheless was nevertheless the most important power broker in Kandahar. He was also tagged as a principal mover and manipulator of the poppy trade. What’s more he was long accused of being an insider in the Afghan drug trade that partly sustains the Taliban. Nevertheless the suspicions gingerly directed at him for double crossing the U.S. and its allies were trumped by the necessity of backing the man who seemed to embody all effective and operational power in Kandahar. That he was also the younger brother of the corrupt President Hamid Karzai and had risen in power and prestige in lock-step with the elder Karzai’s internationally backed rise to executive power did not hurt his political and financial fortunes. He was considered to have been in the CIA’s payroll throughout President Bush’s run of Afghanistan.

This anchor of clientelism, then, protected both the Karzai family and at least some American and NATO interests in Afghanistan. The death of Ahmed Wali Karzai now signals a complete and irreversible rupture in the clientelistic program.

Afghanistan is a near-frontier country; the rule of law does not exist there as an injunction to sway minds and cojole mutual advantage moves. This could not be more true of Southern Afghanistan. Therefore there cannot be peace in Kandahar if there does not exist an individual who can guarantee some modicum of peace-a strong man. Ahmed Wali was that strong man. He helped secure Kandahar for NATO interests by providing security and logistical aid to ISAF forces and its supply convoys. Now, put aside the issue of peace, and its demands: Ahmed Wali’s assassination signals the start of an all-out war between powerful tribal factions in Kandahar. Not only will there be no peace (a negative proposition), the region might well erupt into internecine conflict that will only drain out the resources that NATO has put aside to secure stability until its final drawdown in 2014.

And that is the fundamentally troubling issue for the United States and its NATO allies: it cannot afford more instability and more bloodshed just when countries like Canada and France are irreversibly drawing out of Afghanistan. Boots on the ground are increasingly spread thinner; and now a truly disruptive state of affairs looms on the horizon in Afghanistan.

Finally consider that just at the moment that NATO and its allies are trying to convince low and mid-level Taliban to switch allegiances to Kabul, the Taliban are likely to trumpet Ahmed Wali’s assassination as their doing, whatever the truth of that claim. They will point to this attack as their strongest signal yet that Kabul remains weak; that those who would support the Kabul government had best think twice. This propaganda victory, masked in claims of a moral victory, is sure to scare off Taliban leaders who until earlier today might have considered switching to Kabul in some hope that the Karzai clan headed by Hamid and Ahmed Wali might secure their futures.



Faheem Haider

Faheem Haider is a political analyst, writer and artist. He holds advanced research degrees in political economy, political theory and the political economy of development from the London School of Economics and Political Science and New York University. He also studied political psychology at Columbia University. During long stints away from his beloved Washington Square Park, he studied peace and conflict resolution and French history and European politics at the American University in Washington DC and the University of Paris, respectively.

Faheem has research expertise in democratic theory and the political economy of democracy in South Asia. In whatever time he has to spare, Faheem paints, writes, and edits his own blog on the photographic image and its relationship to the political narrative of fascist, liberal and progressivist art.

That work and associated writing can be found at the following link: