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Karzai Buries a Brother, and Quickly Appoints Another as Successor
Posted by The Agonist on July 13th, 2011

From our partners at The Agonist

Carlotta Gall & Ruhllah Khapalwak | Kabul | July 13

NYT – President Hamid Karzai wept as he buried his half brother in the family graveyard just south of the city of Kandahar on Wednesday morning, but moved swiftly to nominate another brother in his place within an hour to reinforce family and political pre-eminence in his ancestral homeland of Kandahar.

The death of Ahmed Wali Karzai, the head of Kandahar’s provincial council and the most powerful figure in southern Afghanistan, has shaken much of Afghanistan and is a severe blow to the president, who relied on him as a critical source of political and financial power for the last ten years. He was receiving guests at his Kandahar home Tuesday morning when he was shot in the head by a longtime associate, a police commander, for reasons that remain unclear.

Thousands of mourners attended the funeral, including senior ministers, governors and tribal chieftains closely flanking the president in a show of solidarity at the graveyard in Karz, which also holds the Karzais’ father, a towering tribal figure who was assassinated by the Taliban in 1999. As President Karzai knelt to kiss his brother’s face at the graveside, a dozen hands reached forward to hold him steady.

After the funeral Mr. Karzai made a conciliatory gesture to over a thousand tribal elders and officials from all over southern Afghanistan who had gathered in a government palace, asking them to recognize Shah Wali Karzai, a brother of Ahmed Wali, as the appointed elder of the family and leader of his Populzai tribe, to which the Karzais belong. It was a moment to unite both the tribes and political support around him in the face of the continuing insurgency. But it was also a signal that the Karzais would be a continuing force in Kandahar, some of those who attended said.

“If you want a developed and prosperous Afghanistan, you have to accept sacrifice,” the president told the somber gathering, according to several elders who were present. He recalled by name a number of senior officials and tribal leaders, including Gen. Daoud Daoud and Gen. Khan Muhammad Mujahid, police officials who had supported the opposition, and were killed in recent months in insurgent attacks around the country. “We have to have a strong commitment and decisiveness to move forward,” he said.

Then in accordance with Pashtun tribal tradition, he called on senior tribal elders, including from Kandahar’s most powerful tribes, to tie one round each of a long silk turban on Shah Wali’s head.

Among the first was Gul Agha Shirzai, the powerful former governor of Kandahar and a known rival of the president’s slain brother. He also called on Hajji Agha Lalai and Hajji Karimullah Naqibi, prominent leaders of the Alikozai tribe, whose members have in the past blamed Ahmed Wali Karzai for a series of assassinations against their tribal leaders.

“We all agreed with it,” said Hajji Hafizullah, an elder from the Alikozai tribe who uses only one name. “This is a very traditional society and whenever someone dies, his brother or son fills his position. All the ministers were there and he called on Shirzai first to show we are all united,” he said.

Yet many of those present said that Shah Wali Karzai, a businessman who manages a property development in Kandahar city but has avoided the political life, would be a pale shadow of his elder brother Ahmed Wali and that the Karzais’ power in Kandahar would likely suffer as a result, they said.

“Karzai will face challenges in the south,” Hajji Hafizullah said. “Ahmed Wali Khan was playing a very important role for Karzai in the south. He had very close contact with tribal leaders and the people, and I personally think there will be challenges ahead.”

Shah Wali Karzai, who is a full brother of Ahmed Wali and a half brother of the president, spent much of the time that Afghanistan was at war in the United States but returned to assist his brother when he became Afghanistan’s leader in 2001. He worked alongside President Karzai in the presidential palace for a year but left after a falling out.

He moved to Kandahar and became the manager of a property development Ayno Mena, that another brother, Mahmood Karzai, and two business partners set up. Despite controversy over the low-cost purchase of the government land, the development has become a model of a modern and well-run development for Kandahar’s emerging middle class.

He lives in the same house as Ahmed Wali Karzai, although his own family lives outside Afghanistan, and is expected to continue running the same kind of open house for petitioners, tribal elders and residents of Kandahar who come forward with requests.

Yet it is Shah Wali’s lack of political experience that makes him different from his brother and engenders concern among residents of Kandahar that he will not be able to manage the complicated tribal relations as his brother did.

“He can lead on family issues but I do not expect him to lead the people of Kandahar,” said Hajji Atta Muhammad Alikozai, who heads a council of veteran resistance fighters in Kandahar.

Shah Wali Karzai also does not have the fearsome reputation of his brother Ahmed Wali and will not have the same iron grip over the local administration and the population, several elders in Kandahar said. “Ahmed Wali was very effective and strong — people were scared of him,” Hajji Alikozai said. “I could not say anything in front of Ahmed Wali but I can before Shah Wali Khan,” he said. That loss of fear alone could herald the decline of the Karzais’ power in Kandahar, he added.

Even as Kandaharis respected the traditional three days of mourning and declined to speak bad of the dead, a few began wondering if the tragedy might open up an opportunity.

“The administration will be more independent now, and if they are clean and straight with the people and serve for the people, things could work out,” Hajji Alikozai said.

“We need new individuals, new faces for the future,” he added. “The Americans need to focus on new people who can deliver.”

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