The half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai was shot dead at his home in Kandahar on Tuesday, authorities said. Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Kandahar provincial council chief, was killed during a gathering, said Tooryalai Wesa, provincial governor. He did not know a motive.
While the governor initially said a friend killed Karzai, his spokesman later clarified that the death was at the hands of a guard.
Saidkhan Khakrezwai, a member of the Kandahar provincial council, told CNN he and others were with Ahmed Wali Karzai when a guard named Sardar Mohammad came into the room and asked to talk to him. The guard then “takes Wali to another room and shoots him with a pistol that he had in his hand,” Khakrezwai said. The shooter was shot dead by other guards. (CNN) Sardar Mohammad was a trusted man who worked as a guard for Karzai for eight years, Khakrezwai said. He was also a commander for a police post where there were about 30 policemen.
Kandahar police chief Abdul Razeq told reporters that Mr. Mohammed had travelled to Mr. Karzai’s home early on Tuesday, saying he needed to show documents to his boss. “The man carried his pistol through the security checks to Wali Karzai’s room. As soon as Wali Karzai came out of the bathroom, he opened fire and shot him in the head and chest,” Mr. Razeq said. (BBC)
Tooralai Wesa, the provincial governor of Kandahar, identified the assassin as Sardar Mohammad and said he was a close, “trustworthy” person who had gone to Wali Karzai’s house to get him to sign some papers. As Wali Karzai was signing the papers, 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.” (CBC) “We felt more safe when Ahmad Wali Karzai was around,” said Wesa who deferred to him. “His loss will have a negative impact on issues with tribes, and current affairs and security. Kandahar today witnessed the darkest day,” Wesa added at a news conference. (Reuters)
Mir Wali, a former legislator from Helmand who said he met with Mr. Karzai for about 30 minutes just before he was killed, was on the second floor of the building when the shooting started. “We came out and saw Wali being carried out and Sardar Mohammed lying on the floor,” he said. “Shooting was continuing.” (New York Times)
A provincial official, Hajji Agha Lalai, was in the next room at the time and helped carry Mr. Karzai on a makeshift stretcher to a car and accompanied him to the hospital. “I was holding him and I was not very sure he would survive,” he said. “It was confirmed in the hospital that he was dead.” (New York Times) “At approximately 11.15 a.m., I was with him in his room. As I finished my conversation with him, I moved to another room in his house. After five minutes, I heard shootings. A man who was a security guard came into his room and shot him by pistol several times. The man who assassinated him was not his own guard who was serving in his home. Actually, this guard was serving for … another brother.” (Toronto Star)
Karzai suffered bullet wounds to his head and chest, said Mohammad Dawood Farhad, the head of Kandahar Hospital.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the shooting, saying that the guard accused of shooting him was working for them. The house had been heavily guarded, hidden behind 2.5 metre blast walls. The Interior Ministry said an investigation was under way. According to a Taliban spokesman, Muhammed had been recruited by the insurgents a “long time” ago and “finally he find the chance today and achieved the objective.” The Taliban characterized Karzai’s assassination as one of their “biggest achievements” and there’s no disputing that. (Toronto Star)
“My brother Ahmad Wali Karzai was killed today,” said the Afghan president in a previously scheduled news conference with visiting French President Nicholas Sarkozy. “The Afghanistan people have suffered a lot. Every Afghan family has suffered. I hope one day these sufferings end.” (CNN) “This is the way of life for the people of Afghanistan,” said Mr. Karzai. “The homes of all Afghans feel this pain. Our hope is this will come to an end, and peace and happiness will come to our homes and will come to rule in our country.” (BBC) He then turned to Mr. Sarkozy and said, “We welcome Mr. Sarkozy and hope he forgives us for not speaking with a smile today.” (New York Times)
Ahmad Wali Karzai, who was dogged by drug dealing and corruption accusations, had been the subject of WikiLeaks cables leaked last year. Without being prompted, he discussed the accusations with a senior U.S. diplomat, according to one of the cables. He said that the claims are part of a campaign to discredit him and offered suggestions on how to stop drug dealing. “He is willing to take a polygraph anytime, anywhere to prove his innocence,” the cable said. “He suggested that the coalition pay mullahs to preach against heroin, which would reduce demand for poppy cultivation.” (CNN)
A U.S. official who authored another cable wrote that even though he must be engaged as head of Kandahar’s provincial council, “he is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker.” He said Karzai’s “reputation for shady dealings” should be considered when he recommends “costly infrastructure projects.” The official said dealing with people like Ahmed Wali Karzai represents a major challenge in Afghanistan: Fighting corruption and building support for government when government officials are corrupt themselves. Karzai “appears not to understand the level of our knowledge of his activities, and that the coalition views many of his activities as malign, particularly relating to his influence over the police,” the author of the first cable said. (CNN)
In addition to discussions of war, drugs and Afghan politics, a comment in one of the cables also addressed his days as a restaurant owner close to Chicago’s Wrigley Field, the iconic baseball stadium. “His restaurant was a hub for American(s) in the Midwest who had worked or lived in Afghanistan prior to the Soviet invasion,” the cable read. (CNN)
Years in power and his sometimes ruthless operating methods meant there might be many other people keen to target Karzai, who was often known simply by his initials, AWK. “I’m not sure whether I would assume that this was the Taliban because he had a lot of enemies down there,” said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network. (Reuters) But regardless of whether they had a hand in the killing, the Taliban are likely to benefit from his death.
“(He) is irreplaceable in Kandahar,” said Haroun Mir, head of Afghanistan’s Center for Research and Policy studies. “Despite all the criticism, he was a stabilizing factor in Kandahar. Now Ahmad Wali Karzai is not there, others in Kandahar will be afraid. This is a real boost to the Taliban.” (Reuters)
Ahmad Wali Karzai had survived several other assassination attempts, including in May 2009 an ambush on the road to Kabul when Taliban insurgents killed one of his bodyguards.
The president will miss his support, particularly at a time he is mired in a long-running dispute with parliament and faces a slow but steady reduction in Western financial and military support over the next four years. The killing is also likely to alarm Western military and civilian officials, despite misgivings they had about him, because it comes at a time when they are trying to map out their departure from Afghanistan.
“The Americans and the British were extremely dependent on him for keeping a lot of these very prominent Pashtun tribes in line and not going over to the Taliban,” said Ahmed Rashid, an expert on the Taliban and longtime friend of the Karzai family.” (Reuters)
Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, offered his condolences to the Afghan president and said ISAF will help the Afghan government “bring justice” to those involved in the killing.
“President Karzai is working to create a stronger, more secure Afghanistan, and for such a tragic event to happen to someone within his own family is unfathomable,” Petraeus said. (CNN)
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a statement condemning the assassination.
“[Ahmad Wali Karzai] had his unsavoury side, but he was someone we could work with and he kept a lid on things in Kandahar,” a U.S. official told the BBC.
Karzai’s funeral will be held in Kandahar Wednesday. His half-brother may attend but security concerns are profound. With one dead Karzai, one president Karzai could be an irresistible target for the Taliban.