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Karzai's brother shot dead by 'Taliban sleeper agent'

Taliban claims responsibility for the assassination of Afghan provincial chief Ahmed Wali Karzai, top power broker and key conduit for Nato reconstruction cash, calling it one of the biggest achievements of their 10-year war against Afghan and Nato forces.

Ahmed Wali Karzai, centre, pictured talking on the phone in 2009 as he sits with supporters celebrating the re-election victory of his brother President Hamid Karzai. BANARAS KHAN / AFP PHOTO
Ahmed Wali Karzai, centre, pictured talking on the phone in 2009 as he sits with supporters celebrating the re-election victory of his brother President Hamid Karzai. BANARAS KHAN / AFP PHOTO

KABUL // The half-brother of the Afghan President Hamid Karzai was shot in the head and killed by a trusted associate at his home in Kandahar city yesterday morning.

The personal bodyguards of Ahmed Wali Karzai, an alleged drug kingpin and commander of his own private militias, returned fire and killed the assassin, according to a witness.

"I was in another room and I heard firing," said Haji Agha Lali Dastagiri, a member of Kandahar's provincial council.

"I ran out and saw he was shot in the arm and twice in the head. The man who shot him was also dead."

It was only a matter of time before Ahmed Wali Karzai became a victim of Afghanistan's violent and treacherous politics, analysts said.

"People say he solved a lot of problems in Kandahar," said one villager, Abdullah Khan. "But we never saw any of this help. He only helped his friends."

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assassination. They said the killer was an insurgent sleeper agent and called it one of the biggest achievements of their 10-year war against Afghan and Nato forces here.

The Taliban announced the start of a spring and summer offensive against Afghan and Nato forces on May 1, and have since carried out a number of high-profile assassinations and attacks.

Kandahar, the southern province of which Ahmed Wali Karzai was council chief, is considered the Islamist militia's spiritual homeland and a stronghold of the insurgency.

Nevertheless, there was no immediate evidence to support the Taliban's claim. Initial reports suggest the shoot-out was the result of a personal dispute.

The killer, Mohammad Sardar, was reportedly working for Ahmed Wali Karzai as a private security guard.

He manned a checkpoint near the Kandahar compound of another Karzai brother, Qayyoum Karzai, and was a family confidant for seven years, associates said.

President Karzai said: "This is the life of all Afghan people. I hope these miseries which every Afghan family faces will one day end."

Ahmed Wali Karzai was the target of at least two assassination attempts in Afghanistan, in 2008 and 2009, but escaped unharmed.

In an interview in December 2010, another brother, Mahmoud Karzai, told The National that his brother took holidays only in Dubai. "It's the only place he goes," Mahmoud Karzai said. "He feels safe here."

With his death, analysts say, comes the potential for his intricate patronage network of tribal leaders, drug smugglers and well connected Afghan businessmen to unravel.

Exercising considerable political and economic influence as the younger half-brother of President Karzai, he used his family connections to build up a considerable and controversial power base in Afghanistan's south.

Despite accusations of corruption, links to the country's lucrative opium trade, and shady affiliations with private armed groups, including insurgents, Ahmed Wali Karzai emerged as the key contact for Nato forces working to stabilise Kandahar and its neighbouring provinces.

Out of 150,000 foreign troops currently in Afghanistan, the majority are based in the country's south.

Seeking reliable Afghan allies in their effort to defeat Taliban insurgents on their home turf, US-led Nato troops funnelled profitable contracts for reconstruction projects through the president's half-brother and his coterie of local businessmen.

He is also reported to have been paid by the CIA to bankroll anti-Taliban militias in Kandahar, the New York Times reported in October 2009.

The Nato strategy of relying on powerful Afghans to flush out insurgents and pave the way for reconstruction efforts is replicated across Afghanistan.

Critics say its reliance on single political or military figures undermines the goal of strengthening Afghan institutions before a foreign troop withdrawal that will begin this month. But western officials say Ahmed Wali Karzai was also successful in persuading local Taliban militants to give up the fight.

Others praised his ability to address the grievances locals had with the corruption-Afghan government.

"His door was always open and there was always a rush to see him," Haji Fazal Mohammed, a tribal elder from Kandahar, said. "He was popular as a tribal elder, as Karzai's brother, and has someone who would help people."

For President Karzai, his brother's web of unsavoury power brokers on both sides was crucial in maintaining his Kabul-based government's diminishing hold on Kandahar.

Much of that web, however, was woven through Ahmed Wali Karzai's own cult of personality.

"It will be hard to replace someone like him," Mr Fazal Mohammed said. "People relied on him and he could keep people calm. I believe now there will be a lot of frustration, which may lead to more insecurity."

bhope@thenational.ae

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* Bradley Hope reported from Cairo