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Karzai’s Strongman Brother Killed In The Pottery Barn

Posted by on July 12th, 2011

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Afghan president Hamid Karzai has confirmed that his brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, or AWK as he was known to the D.C. think-tank Twitterati, has been killed in the city of Kandahar by a close confident, Sardar Mohammed who was the commander of the police post near his home, during a private meeting. The security chief pulled out a pistol – that he was allowed armed into a one-on-one with the city powerbroker shows how trusted he was – and shot Karzai twice. The powerbroker's security then burst into the room and killed the assassin. The Taliban have claimed credit for organising the killing, yet the consensus is that the motive was more likely personal.

Today, just about every Afghanistan-watcher agrees that the younger Karzai's death leaves a gaping hole in U.S. claims of momentum, in Western plans for transition to Afghan-led security and in Kandahar's political power structure. Yet they also agree that the president's brother was a strongman, accused of drug trafficking, of profiteering from private security companies and of being an agent for the CIA.

The best commentary on Karzai's past and Kandahar's future come from Joshua Foust and Matt Taibbi respectively. Karzai was entirely a construct of the U.S.' "we broke it, we own it" attitude; he would still have been living in exile in the U.S. if not for the 2002 invasion and could not have come to power without U.S. backing. A 2009 cable revealed by Wikileaks read:

"The meeting with AWK (Wali Karzai) highlights one of our major challenges in Afghanistan: how to fight corruption and connect the people to their government, when the key government officials are themselves corrupt."

But as Josh points out, the U.S. had the opportunity to do things otherwise and decided to give its patronage to corrupt officials instead.

Four years ago, ISAF had the opportunity to start developing the fundamentals of the institutions of government in the area, a system of rule based not on personality or thuggery, but laws, regulations, and structure. They chose, instead, to go through Ahmed Wali Karzai.

When your entire modus operandi is based on friendly local strongmen,you rise and fall on their backs. AWK reaped what he sowed in Kandahar: A vicious rule by thug, gently papered over with the veneer of respectability and Western-friendliness. Among the Americans, his loss is devastating; among the Afghans, he will barely be missed.

Matt Taibbi agrees that Ahmed Wali Karzai was in large part a construct of the West:

As the West began looking ahead to transition and political reconciliation, the hope was that Ahmed Wali would be able to consolidate a stable political order, despite the fact that he and his associates had grown vastly wealthy off the conflict and the U.S. military presence. Two weeks ago, in an indication of how far this process had gone, there was a high-level push to make Ahmed Wali the next governor of Kandahar province.

But disagrees that Karzai won't be missed by the locals – if only because now there is now likely to be a protracted period of infighting among the other corrupt strongmen to see who can snatch his regional crown.

His death leaves a massive hole in the fabric of Kandahari power politics and shows how dangerous a strategy of relying on individual power brokers can be. Ahmed Wali was the linchpin of the Loya Kandahar pro-Karzai network, a pan-tribal alliance brought together by money and mutual security that included figures like Aref Noorzai, Agha Lalai Dastagiri, Fazluddin Agha, and the current chief of police, Brig. Gen. Abdul Raziq.

There is now no clear successor to Ahmed Wali, and certainly no one can combine his vast influence and closeness to the president. Any figure other than a Popalzai might upset the delicate balance between the pro-government elements of Kandahar's various tribes, and so his two brothers, Qayum and Shah Wali, are seen as potential candidates who could step into the role of the president's power broker in the south.

…Ahmed Wali was never popular in Kandahar among the ordinary locals. Street vendors and schoolteachers alike would blame him for the criminality and corruption that have only grown since 2001. But the Kandahari friends I've spoken with since his death have shown no joy, only apprehension for what the future might bring.

"The city is locked down; there are checkpoints everywhere and helicopters overhead," said one. "We are afraid of what will happen next."

Yet again I'm reminded that the real Pottery Barn rule was always "You broke it, now pay up and get the f**k out of our store!" and that the U.S. perversion of that to "We broke it, we own it (and so get to fix it our way)" has never yet benefitted either the locals upon which that perversion is forcibly impressed nor U.S. national security, despite the recalcitrance of an American policy elite that was convinced of it by neocon shills back in 2003.

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