The United States lost one of its most important local enforcers in Afghanistan on Tuesday when President Hamid Karzai’s half brother Ahmed Wali Karzai was assassinated by one of his own bodyguards.
The Taliban resistance movement’s claim of responsibility for the execution has so far been impossible to confirm due to the assassin having been immediately shot dead by other members of the security team.
If the claim is true, however, the Taliban has pulled off yet another spectacular action similar to their daring prison breaks and the bombing of the Kabul Hilton.
The assassination is yet another illustration of the Afghan National Resistance’s ability to strike at the Western-backed Karzai regime’s leadership.
The timing of the action was also politically strategic in that it came just hours before President Hamid Karzai held a press conference with visiting French President Nicolas Sarzoky, who had come to the country to ceremoniously announce a withdrawal of 1,000 French soldiers from the NATO force currently occupying Afghanistan.
As the head of the Kandahar Provincial Council, Ahmed Wali Karzai functioned as a local warlord who successfully built up and headed a vast network for trafficking opium. Provided by the West with private security contractors and widely suspected of being on the payroll of America’s Central Intelligence Agency, Karzai was viewed as a tool of foreign imperialism and an untouchable symbol of political corruption and nepotism.
In December 2010, WikiLeaks released a series of Afghanistan-related communiqués, including a confidential summary of a February 4, 2010 meeting of an interagency group known as the Nexus-Corruption Leadership Board.
The board — which was co-chaired by Kabul embassy official Earl Anthony Wayne and Major General Michael Flynn, then the top military intelligence official in Afghanistan — had convened to review potential anti-corruption measures. Specifically discussed were “possible courses of action (‘COAs’) that US military and embassy personnel may employ against criminal and corrupt Afghan officials in an effort to change their behavior.”
During the meeting, board members agreed to “apply a set of minimum COAs against high-profile corrupt officials to signal a change in US policy on corruption” and to “begin a series of high-level demarches to persuade the Karzai government to follow through on promises to tackle corruption.”
One of the three main names discussed by the board was Ahmed Wali Karzai.
The cable noted that the embassy’s Nexus Corruption Coordination committee — which develops anti-corruption policy recommendations — and NATO’s Anti-Corruption Task Force would soon meet to “consider intel and law enforcement files assembled on” each of the officials, including Karzai. The groups would then make a “joint policy recommendation on how these officials should be addressed, taking into consideration second and third order effects” — that is, the potential blowback of taking down President Hamid Karzai’s brother.
In the trove of confidential cables released by WikiLeaks, there is no record of what transpired at future meetings but Washington and NATO continued to use the drug lord as a brutal source of stability in the country’s troubled south.
Karzai’s assassination complicates US President Barack Obama’s promise to end the nearly decade-long occupation of Afghanistan, as well as his timetable to withdraw 33,000 American troops.
Ahmed Wali Karzai’s brutality and influence was expected to compensate for the departure of occupation forces and serve Western interests following the withdrawal of foreign troops. Although Tuesday’s assassination has created new complications for Washington, it is doubtful that Obama will cancel the troop withdrawal prior to an election season as he has staked his political reputation on the promise.