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The South Asia Channel

Après AWK le déluge?

Ahmad Wali Karzai’s death comes at a time when the U.S. is talking of withdrawal from Afghanistan, negotiations are being attempted with the Taliban, and a series of assassinations have eliminated some of Afghanistan’s most capable military leaders. President Hamid Karzai, true to Afghan tradition, put on a brave face at his press conference with ...

Majid Saeedi/Getty Images
Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

Ahmad Wali Karzai’s death comes at a time when the U.S. is talking of withdrawal from Afghanistan, negotiations are being attempted with the Taliban, and a series of assassinations have eliminated some of Afghanistan’s most capable military leaders. President Hamid Karzai, true to Afghan tradition, put on a brave face at his press conference with French President Sarkozy shortly after hearing the news. But he showed signs of strain; the mood behind the scenes in the Arg, Kabul’s Presidential Palace, must be a grim one. 

This is not only because the death of any man’s brother is a hard thing to bear, but because this brother was an important part of the Karzai dynasty. Ahmad Wali’s militias and his revenue-raising networks – widely believed to include drugs trafficking — and his links with the CIA, were a significant part of the Karzai power-base in their home region of Loya Kandahar. "No-one can be as powerful as he was," one friend of mine from Kandahar opined; "he had tribal support, money and power."  

Some experts have suggested that this is precisely the opportunity that has now opened up, for a re-arrangement of political power in the Kandahar region that would re-enfranchise individuals and tribal groups alienated by internecine conflict, poor government outreach, and active exclusion from patronage and support networks. Others suggest that another powerful individual is bound at least partially to fill the gap — someone such as Aref Noorzai, who was Ahmad Wali’s sister-in-law’s husband, and whose brother is already on the Kandahar provincial council (with plenty of other relatives in strategic positions, too); or Gul Agha Sherzai, the former governor of the province, whose family also have big business interests there. The third alternative is chaos. Ahmad Wali’s networks of armed men, after all, will still exist – with or without an official sponsor. Big competitors, trying to move onto Ahmad Wali’s turf, may increase the internecine conflict rather than reduce it, which in turn will make it easier for the Taliban to continue to encroach on Kandahar City and its environs.

But perhaps the bigger question is: What effect will the death of President Karzai’s most controversial, but also apparently highly trusted and powerful younger brother-cum-lieutenant, have on the President’s morale and motivation? Will it make him seek revenge, if the Taliban truly are responsible? Or-with or without a peace deal with the Taliban, which seems a more distant prospect now as the Afghan state visibly weakens — will it make him keener to make an exit, when his term ends in 2014?

Gerard Russell was in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2009.

 

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