by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 6, Ramadan, 1432)
Afghanistan’s most powerful warlord, Ahmed Wali Karzai, half brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was shot and killed by Sardar Mohammed, a trusted family friend and security commander, at his home in Qandahar on July 12. The assailant was immediately shot dead by Karzai’s family members and his bullet-riddled body then hanged outside a building on a dusty Qandahar street for public display.
Popularly known as Mr. Qandahar for his larger than life role in the city and province where he was the go-to man to fix any problem or grant any favour, he was also called K2 (Karzai-Two). His death leaves a huge political vacuum in an area that the US-NATO forces had designated as their battle of choice against the Taliban.
Sardar Mohammed packing a pistol went past the security detail outside Ahmed Wali’s house saying he wanted to show some documents to the boss. Carrying arms is routine in Afghanistan and there was little suspicion about his activity since Sardar Mohammed was a trusted family friend of K2’s. According to Qandahar police chief, Abdul Razziq, as Ahmed Wali came out of the bathroom, he was shot in the head and chest dying instantly. His body was then taken to the local hospital even after it had become clear he was dead. The people could not think of anything else.
The Taliban said they carried out the attack, calling it one of their top achievements in 10 years of war but others have dismissed the claim. It is known that Sardar Mohammed was deeply involved with the Americans and it cannot be ruled out that they instigated him to carry out the murder plan. In any case, regardless of the killer or his motive, K2’s death is a big blow to the Karzai government as well as to US efforts to pacify the south. Karzai Senior relied on his wheeler-dealer brother to consolidate tribal and political alliances in the critical south that is a stronghold of the Taliban.
President Karzai said the assassination reflected the suffering of all Afghan people. “This is the way of life for the people of Afghanistan,” he said. “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.” This is highly unlikely as long as foreign occupation troops run amok in the country killing innocent people and widespread corruption among government officials remains a way of life. While thousands attended K2’s funeral, it was Hamid Karzai’s public grief, crying as he kissed his slain brother’s forehead after it was lowered into the grave that captured the moment. Karzai appealed to the Taliban to end the bloodshed, a call that is highly unlikely to be heeded.
Ahmad Wali Karzai was accused of being mired in corruption and was said to be openly involved in the drug trade. He also ran a personal militia financed by the Americans that he used against opponents, real or imagined. While his supporters and hangers-on saw him as a defender of Pashtun rights, the Taliban hotly disputed this, branding him, like his brother in Kabul, an American puppet. The CIA and the US military kept him on their payroll.
At the time of his killing, Ahmed Wali was head of the Qandahar Provincial Council yet his supporters had lobbied the president to make him governor of the province. The senior Karzai was lukewarm to the idea, whether as a ploy or he had other reasons for such reluctance will not now be known. In any case, K2 was used in bringing several pro-Taliban tribal elders into the government tent. The Americans called him an “unsavoury character” but liked to work with him “because he could get things done,” according to US military officials in Afghanistan. The CIA financed K2’s private militias that were used to target political opponents.
As head of the Qandahar Provincial Council and because he was the brother of the president, K2 enjoyed immense powers and could get anything done. This was the reason why people swarmed around his house seeking favours. Ahmed Wali enjoyed his position allowing people to kiss his hand or bow to him. He always carried and used several cell (mobile) phones simultaneously, brandishing them as symbols of power and prestige. He also carried two loaded guns himself despite a phalanx of bodyguards. Ultimately, it was one of his “trusted” family friends that ended his life.
There were several unsuccessful attempts on his life. In 2009, he survived a rocket and machine-gun attack on his convoy while travelling to Kabul. The previous year, he was chairing a meeting in a government building when a bomb-filled fuel tanker exploded close by. Although K2 escaped unhurt, six people were killed and 40 wounded in the blast. He and other officials blamed Taliban militants for the bombing. In the brutal environment of Afghanistan, killing opponents is a routine affair. K2 himself was not above such tactics; ultimately it cost him his life.
In recent weeks, there has also been a spate of other killings of high profile officials. On May 28, General Mohammad Daud Daud, police commander for Northern Afghanistan, was killed in the provincial governor’s compound in Takhar. Six weeks earlier (April 15) Khan Mohammad Mujahid, police chief of Kandahar province, was killed in an attack on the police headquarters. Only two days earlier, the pro-government tribal elder Haji Malik Zarin was killed in an attack in Kunar province. A month prior to that (March 10), Abdul Rahman Sayedkhili, police chief of Kunduz province, was killed in Kunduz city. The list goes on.
With K2’s death, speculation is rife about his replacement. It will not be easy but the Qandahar police chief Abdul Razziq, fiercely loyal to K2 is touted as a possible replacement. Barely 32, Abdul Razziq is completely illiterate and absolutely ruthless, the kind of person the Americans like. He presides over a vast corruption network that skims customs duties, facilitates drug trafficking and smuggles other contraband. But he has also managed to achieve a degree of security, according to the Americans.
K2 is gone. The billions he and the other Karzai brothers stashed away in Dubai properties will now benefit the other siblings, provided they survive the Taliban onslaught and manage to escape. If the Taliban catch them, their fate will be no different than that of General Najibullah or the most recently executed Sardar Mohammed. What people will miss most about K2 is his lamb kebobs and rice in his Chicago restaurant that he used to run before fortune smiled on him when his brother Hamid became the president of Afghanistan.