Death of Karzai’s warlord brother new barrier to peace

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Both sides of the divide … Ahmad Wali Karzai
Both sides of the divide … Ahmad Wali Karzai

Source: smh.com.au

Written by: Simon Tisdall

Posted: July 14, 2011

AHMAD Wali Karzai, who was gunned down in his home in Kandahar, was in many ways the personification of modern-day Afghanistan – corrupt, lawless, paradoxical and charming. Now, with his death, Karzai has also come to symbolise Afghanistan’s enduring tragedy.

”My younger brother was martyred in his house today. This is the life of all Afghan people. I hope these miseries, which every Afghan family faces, will one day end,” his brother, the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, said. But the hopes of American military commanders will be focused on a more immediate concern: how to prevent a power vacuum undermining efforts to stabilise Kandahar and Helmand.

Karzai’s was the modern face of warlordism. He batted away repeated allegations of drug trafficking, kleptocracy and money-laundering. His connection to the presidency was one important protection. Hamid Karzai attended his funeral on Wednesday.

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Crucially, he was seen as a born survivor who could not be bypassed or sidelined. He once boasted nine suicide bombers had died in attempts to kill him. Early Tuesday morning his luck ran out.

The story could have been different. As US and NATO efforts to pacify the south ran into ever greater Taliban resistance from 2007 to 2009, allied commanders and the Western media began to apply greater scrutiny to the reliability of the West’s Afghan partners. The war’s growing unpopularity meant there was less tolerance for shifty allies like Karzai perceived to have a foot in both camps.

American frustrations burst into the open in October 2009 when serving and retired officials told The New York Times Karzai was a key player in Afghanistan’s illegal opium trade, which helps fund the Taliban insurgency, while also on the CIA payroll. Even as Karzai denied the allegations, new claims surfaced that he was secretly dealing with Taliban leaders; that he lived rent-free in a luxury home owned by a drug dealer; that he masterminded fraud in the 2009 presidential election that saw his brother returned to power.

None of these claims could be definitively proved and Karzai denied all wrongdoing.

All along, people in Kandahar who knew the truth kept their mouths shut for fear of retribution or because they were on the payroll too.

The Americans changed tack in 2010, as General David Petraeus’s surge strategy came into operation. Instead of vilifying him, they co-opted him.

The decision raised hackles in Washington and Afghanistan.

”You can’t ignore him. He’s the proverbial 800lb gorilla and he’s in the middle of a lot of rooms. He’s the mafia don, the family fixer, the troubleshooter,” one coalition official said. And so Karzai survived again.

His departure raises worries that the Taliban may be encouraged to roll back hard-won gains across Kandahar province. The vacuum caused by his death is dangerous in itself, while the implications for US attempts to engage the Taliban in peace talks may be equally unhelpful.

Karzai was a man whose life spanned both sides of the divide. His murder renders that gulf just a little bit wider
Read more: smh.com.au

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