Ahmed Wali Karzai

2 minute read
Aryn Baker

No one better encapsulated the central conflict of how we wage war in Afghanistan than Ahmed Wali Karzai. Half brother to the President, Hamid, and a powerful tribal leader, Karzai wielded extraordinary influence in Kandahar, where he served as head of the provincial council. He once boasted to a senior U.S. diplomat that he, not the governor, was its most powerful official. At times a suspected narcotics kingpin, Karzai, who was killed by his longtime head of security July 12, ruled the southern provinces with a combination of verve, guile and fear that Don Corleone would recognize.

We too were in his thrall, acknowledging that his suspect behavior undermined the rule of law even as we continued the courtship. A leaked diplomatic memo once lamented that Karzai “highlights one of our major challenges in Afghanistan. How to fight corruption and connect the people to their government, when the key government officials are themselves corrupt.” A whispering campaign by American officials alleging fraud came to naught, supported as he was by his half brother. In the end, an assassin’s bullet did more than Afghanistan’s tattered justice system ever could. But his departure, however welcome in some circles, is likely to unleash a lethal power struggle that might very well undermine the military gains of the past year.

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