KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — Ahmed Wali Karzai, the reputed political kingpin of Kandahar and half-brother of the Afghan president, was shot dead early Tuesday by a security guard while signing papers at a heavily fortified compound in the provincial capital.
The alleged assassin — identified as Sadar Mohammed — was immediately shot and killed by members of Karzai's security detail, provincial police chief Brig.-Gen. Abdul Raziq told a news conference.
The murder opens up a potentially dangerous power vacuum in the province, which has been the focus of the Taliban insurgency.
“It was a big loss for us and the entire Afghan nation,” said Gov. Tooryalai Wesa, who is an Afghan-Canadian.
Initial reports had it that Karzai, 47, was gunned down outside his own compound, but provincial councillor Haji Agha Lalai says it took place inside the building following a meeting.
The assassin was apparently a guard working for the Karzai's family and not a member of his close protection detail, said Lalai, who once served as Karzai's deputy.
Karzai was shot twice, once in the head and once in chest.
Raziq says the motive is unclear. Although the Taliban have claimed responsibility and said they recruited the security guard.
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.
Neither the Canadian Embassy in Kabul, the military, nor NATO would comment on the assassination.
Karzai was the target of at least nine 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.
The slain leader's body was taken to the Mirwais hospital where he was officially pronounced dead.
Funeral arrangements are uncertain as much of Karzai's immediate family is in Dubai and it's unclear whether his brother will attend the service.
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 Karzai 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.
“My younger brother was martyred in his house today,” the president said during a news conference with his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy in Kabul.
“This is the life of all Afghan people, I hope these miseries which every Afghan family faces will one day end.”
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 largesse 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 instability in Kandahar and wave of assassinations involving municipal officials.
U.S. diplomats have long considered Karzai a disruptive influence and as far back as 2006 actively tried to convince the president to remove him and give him an ambassadorship somewhere.
Hamid Karzai always refused and demanded to see proof of the allegations against his brother.