The half brother of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai was killed today by one of his bodyguards at his home in the southern province of Kandahar, the family bastion and Taliban stronghold where he dominated politics.
Ahmed Wali Karzai, 50, who was the head of Kandahar’s provincial council, was shot dead this morning, President Karzai said in Kabul at a joint news conference with visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the shooting.
The killing comes after President Barack Obama announced last month that the United States will begin pulling its troops out of Afghanistan this year and start transferring security control to Afghan forces. Ahmed Wali’s death will raise questions over Karzai’s ability to fulfill the goal of bringing security to his country, said Waliullah Rahmani, executive director of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies.
“This is a strategic and psychological blow for President Karzai,” Rahmani said. “Afghans will now ask if Karzai’s government cannot protect his own brother in his home and stronghold in Kandahar, what security can he bring to Afghanistan in general?”
A spokesman for the Taliban, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, said in a phone interview from an undisclosed location that the group had ordered the attack by one of Ahmed Wali Karzai’s bodyguards they had secretly recruited.
The Taliban have claimed responsibility for attacks that they have been found later not to have conducted.
Hamid Karzai said his brother’s killing reflected the life of the Afghan people, adding that hopefully their “suffering will end.” Sarkozy said the shooting showed “the tragic destiny of every Afghan.”
General David Petraeus, who is stepping down as commander of NATO’s 48-nation military coalition in Afghanistan, condemned the killing in a statement and offered assistance in bringing those responsible to justice.
During Hamid Karzai’s near-decade as Afghanistan’s leader, Ahmed Wali, his younger brother by four years, remained in Kandahar, the country’s second-largest city and the political center for the south. Ahmed Wali ran a political fiefdom that was seen as corrupt, suspected of drug-dealing and that for years undermined support for his brother and for the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Taliban, according to a study of Kandahar politics last year by the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
Target of Attacks
Ahmed Wali Karzai’s “influence over Kandahar is the central obstacle to any of ISAF’s governance objectives,” the report by the institute said, referring to the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
“Wali Karzai’s behavior and waning popularity among local populations promote instability and provide space for the Taliban to exist,” Carl Forsberg, an analyst who specializes in southern Afghan politics, wrote in the report.
Ahmed Wali Karzai had been the target of previous attacks. In 2009, Taliban guerrillas assaulted his office at the provincial council headquarters in Kandahar. In the same year his convoy came under rocket and machine-gun fire near Kabul, Agence France-Presse reported.
Obama said last month that the U.S. will withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan, where they are fighting the Taliban, before the end of this year and an additional 23,000 by September 2012. Other nations have announced their own troop reduction plans.
France, which today said it plans to withdraw a quarter of its 4,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2012, will pull together a five-year France-Afghan development plan, Sarkozy said in Kabul.
“We should not abandon Afghanistan, but the manner in which we help them is going to change,” Sarkozy said. “The withdrawal of troops is not disengagement. Afghanistan needs to be taken charge of by the Afghans.”
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