By Phillip Ittner
Ahmad Wali Karzai, the half brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a powerful political figure in his own right, has been killed in his home in Kandahar, apparently by his own bodyguard.
The Taliban is claiming responsibility for the assassination of Ahmad Wali Karzai, who served as the head of the provincial council in Kandahar, a region of Afghanistan significant both as the birthplace of the Taliban and the focus of the recent “surge” of U.S. troops in the country.
A clearly shaken Afghan President Hamid Karzai confirmed the death of his brother during a press conference with visiting French President Nikolas Sarkozy.
“My younger brother was martyred in his house today,” the Afghan president said. “This is the life of all Afghan people. I hope these miseries which every Afghan family faces will one day end.”
Ahmad Wali Karzai was a controversial figure on the Afghan political scene. Considered the most powerful man in Kandahar, he had been accused of criminality, corruption and drug running. But he was also a broker for stability in the strategically important area. He consistently rallied the tribes to show support for the central government in Kabul. His death will leave a vacuum at a time when NATO and Afghan government forces are trying to regain the initiative in the 10-year-old war.
The outgoing commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, conveyed his personal condolences to President Karzai and swiftly issued a condemnation of the killing. He said that the international forces would assist the government in bringing to justice those involved in the murder.
While the Taliban has issued a claim of responsibility for the killing of Ahmad Wali Karzai, there is no clear proof it orchestrated the murder. It has, in the past, capitalized on events not of its own making.
Listen to analysis by VOA Senior Correspondent Gary Thomas
All sides in the conflict are trying to show strength as the apparent endgame in the war gains momentum. Both NATO forces and Taliban leaders want to enter peace negotiations from a position of strength.
The assassination sends the message that the Taliban is still very much a force to be reckoned with, says Afghan member of parliament Daud Sultanzoi.
“This is a show of power. And they show how far they can reach. How deep they can penetrate. And this means that we have to reckon with that and be prepared for worse things. Every time they do something like this, it’s not just the action itself but it’s the message that is sent through those actions that is more important,” he said.
Reports that Ahmad Wali Karzai’s killer was a member of the Karzai inner circle also show that security is far from guaranteed in Afghanistan, regardless of how much effort and expense is devoted to achieving it.
Police and military forces are on high alert in Kandahar, with extra roadblocks and checkpoints in place to try and capture any other individuals who may have had a role in the assassination.
President Karzai’s office says he is traveling to the city to collect his brother’s body and initiate a full investigation.