KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Ahmed Wali Karzai, the reputed political kingpin of Kandahar and half-brother of the Afghan president, was shot dead early Tuesday outside of a heavily fortified compound in the provincial capital.
A spokesman for the governor of Kandahar announced the killing in a short statement.
“I can confirm that Ahmed Wali Karzai, the head of the provincial shura, was assassinated today,” said Zalmai Ayubi, who promised more information in a press conference later in the day.
Karzai has been a polarizing figure throughout Canada’s involvement in Kandahar and has been accused of corruption, being on the CIA payroll and even involvement in the drug trade — charges which he always vehemently denied.
He was the target of several assassination attempts and always travelled with a large contingent of bodyguards and provincial police.
During one recent trip to the Kandahar civilian airport, Karzai’s convoy of armoured SUVs was accompanied by two pickup trucks of gun-toting police and swept along a highway lined with cops and heavy machines.
There was a virtual ring of steel around him.
Reports in the city indicate a member of Karzai’s private security team killed him, but that has yet to be confirmed by government officials.
The slain leader’s body was taken to the Mirwais hospital where he was pronounced dead.
AWK, as he was known, was fluent in English after spending years in Chicago tending to the family’s restaurant business. He was appointed to lead the provincial council in Kandahar a few years after Hamid Karzai took over as president following the 2001 U.S. invasion.
The two men were close.
Although he was a younger brother, Ahmed Wali took care of the president while the family was exiled in Pakistan during the Taliban years.
Hamid Karzai defended his brother through allegations of involvement in criminal activity and corruption, often at a great political cost to himself.
In a statement, the president said the assasination of his brother reflected the plight of all Afghans.
The president says “in the houses of the people of Afghanistan, each of us is suffering and our hope is, God willing, to remove this suffering from the people of Afghanistan and implement peace and stability.”
After being appointed to the governing council, AWK set about consolidating the family’s hold on power among the fractious Pashtun tribes of the region, sometimes in a brutal fashion.
Among the Kandahar governing class, it is said that Karzai’s alienation of the restive Noorzai tribe in western Kandahar from provincial jobs and largess contributed to the return of the Taliban.
Accusations and rumours that he meddled in tribal politics and played favourites among various factions bred a fierce a resentment that polarized local governance and as years went by, inflamed the insurgency.
His word had the force of law in Kandahar.
At a recent meeting, Karzai scolded the contractor who built the new provincial council building and warned him that “if anything went wrong, it’s on your head and you’ll never work in Kandahar again.”
In 2008, he reportedly had a hand in the firing of the former governor Rahmatullah Raufi, according to senior Canadian military sources. The move set off a period of political instabillity in Kandahar and wave of assasinations involving municipal officials.