Assassination leaves political vacuum in Afghanistan

By Jim Michaels and Carmen Gentile, USA TODAY
Posted 3m ago

KABUL — The assassination of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's half brother, a powerful political figure, highlights the vulnerability of the government as U.S. forces begin to withdraw and turn over more responsibility to the Afghans, analysts say.

Ahmed Wali Karzai was shot to death Tuesday by a close associate in his home in Kandahar province, where as head of the provincial council he gave full support to U.S. military operations against the Taliban while refuting allegations he was becoming rich off opium trafficking and gun running.

"Whether or not the Taliban is directly responsible for the assassination it will certainly redound to their benefit," said Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. "It sends a message to the people of Afghanistan that President Karzai doesn't really have full control of the country."

Tooryalai Wesa, the provincial governor of Kandahar, identified the assassin as Sardar Mohammad and said he was a "trustworthy" person who knew Wali Karzai for years.

As Wali Karzai was signing some paperwork, the assassin "took out a pistol and shot him with two bullets — one in the forehead and one in the chest," Wesa said. "Another patriot to the Afghan nation was martyred by the enemies of Afghanistan."

Karzai's bodyguards shot and killed the assassin.

Ahmed Wali Karzai was a powerful political figure in Kandahar, the spiritual homeland of the Taliban. Analysts say that he represented stability and his death will leave a political vacuum at a vulnerable time.

"It will leave a power vacuum in this important region of Afghanistan," said Nate Freier, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "We certainly don't want a wider gang war in Kandahar right now."

NATO says it has pacified much of Kandahar province but that Taliban militants are positioned throughout the area and have been attacking coalition troops and Afghan civilians to retake a country from which it was ousted following a 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

President Obama has said gains in security make it possible to withdraw 33,000 U.S. troops by the end of next summer and remove the remainder by the end of 2014. There are currently about 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Some worried that Wali Karzai's death could harm security.

"Surely his death will have a negative effect (on security in Kandahar)," said Waheed Mozdah, an independent analyst in Kabul who knew Wali Karzai.

"Ahmed Wali managed relations between tribes in Kandahar … he was an important man in Kandahar, more powerful than the governor (of the province)," he said. "There were many accusations against Ahmed Wali" regarding his ties to the opium trade and other illegal activity, though none were proven, he said.

Freier said Karzai may be a "bad actor in some respects" but agreed that he exercised significant influence in the region and at least at some level supported his half brother's policies, Freier said.

Curtis said the death presents President Karzai with an opportunity to replace his half brother with someone who supports good governance.

"It is important for Karzai to move forward and replace him with somebody who has credibility with the people," she said. ... ther_n.htm