Ahmed Wali Karzai is dead. I’ve spent the morning assembling some initial thoughts and reactions as to what comes next. The short of it is: this is bad. It was going to be bad, and our leaders need to be asked why they ever thought this wouldn’t be bad.
For the AfPak Channel, I ask who will really miss Ahmed Wali Karzai?
Whatever his influence as a political stabilizer, though, Ahmed Wali was also an economic and political nightmare. He would, in essence, hold court at his many offices and mansions around Kandahar city, circumventing the “legitimate” government and doling out to his supplicants handfuls of cash everyone whispered were gained through smuggling opium. From a business perspective, AWK was a mafia don, controlling his own business interests with an iron fist and, the rumors go, violently attacking anyone who posed too much competition.
When you combine his violent business activities with his close association with his brother Hamid, it is unsurprising that AWK had a list of enemies as large as the Hindu Kush Mountains. Even if his killer turns out to have very little real association with the Taliban, AWK’s death is, in many ways, just the latest in a string of violent acts against Kandahar’s prominent leaders.
There’s more, obviously, at the link. Meanwhile, on my commute to work this morning I was talking over traffic and incoming flights at Reagan National Airport whilst driving up I-395 and talking to The Takeaway:
Finally, I spoke with Ritula Shah at BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight. I’m in the teaser and at the last five minutes of the episode.
Finally, Yochi Dreazen quotes me in his story on the killing, contrasting the desire by some ISAF officials to arrest Ahmed Wali Karzai for drug, organized criminal, or other charges. The problem is the dearth of concrete, documentary evidence linking AWK to those things—rumors abound, and some of them are probably true, but we never had enough evidence to really follow through. Yochi had asked me if I thought it might still be a good thing, now that AWK is, basically, out of the way.
“Arresting him would have been much better because it would have been example of Afghan law finally being employed against a powerful man,” said Joshua Foust, a former analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency who now works as a fellow at the American Security Project. “Instead there’s just a sudden power vacuum at the top of the province, and there will be lots of lower-level thugs fighting for control of a very large pie.”
Foust noted that the U.S. has routinely turned key regions of Afghanistan over to autocrats such as Ahmad Wali Karzai but has rarely taken steps to moderate their power or replace them with more legitimate rulers. “Relying on rule through strongmen only gets you so far,” he said.
But of course, I must always be associated with the DIA, even though I worked there for four stupid months last year. Sigh.