What Ahmed Wali Karzai's assassination means for Afghanistan

Jul 12, 2011

Afghanistan expert Tom Gouttierre chatted about what the assassination of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's half-brother will mean for the stability of Afghanistan. Gouttierre also spoke to Afghanistan's political and cultural make-up and how it might be affected by this event. Ask Gouttierre your questions, get real answers.

Related: Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother of Afghan president, killed by trusted guard

Hi.  I'm Tom Gouttierre, Dean of International Studies and Programs at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.  The topic of our online chat today relates to Afghanistan and the assassination today of President Hamid Karzai's half brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai in Qandahar. 

What will the assassination of Afghan Presidnet Hamid Karzai's half-brother will mean for the stability of Afghanistan? Will the stability get better or worse?

To be sure, it will create a lot of uncertainty regarding the governing structure of Qandahar Province and the South, including Helmand Province.  Ahmad Wali Karzai was very influential throughout the region.  His departure from the scene will create much jockeying for influence not only in the South, but also in the general political situation in Afghanistan, largely because he was the brother of the President of Afghanistan.

If the king of Kandahar can't be protected, then why are our soldiers still there?

There are indications at this stage that this assassination may have been caused by internal, even extended family connections.  While it would be premature to discount Taliban claims for responsibility for the assassination, it is not yet clear that that is the case.  Therefore, in response to the question, an examination of the situation in Qandahar suggests that this may not have been caused by a political situation for which our soldiers may have been able to provide protection.  If this is related to a Taliban initiative, one could contend that this is the weapon of primary choice, that is, political and other assassinations in place of the military actions which the insurgent groups are not as able to launch due to the success of the surge in Helmand and Qandahar Provinces.  In other words, our soldiers are having success overall in that region, enabling our military focus to move eastward toward the Pakistan border and the insurgent groups that are moving back and forth across that border.

Southern Afghanistan was unusually quite this spring and summer so far. Gen. Petreaus has ostensibly worked out some truce with the Taliban/insurgents in that area in order to get more troops on Afghanistan's eastern border. This tranquillty of sort also helped Obama to announce some troop withdrawal to "help" his re-election bid. How much you think was Wali Karzai's contribution to get these truces agreed upon? Does this assassination foretell toppling of Petreaus' cart?

This assassination and other similar acts of violence does not foretell the "toppling of Petraeus' cart."  Wali Karzai was very influential throughout the region.  Though there were allegations of corruption and other actions which were criticized, it is also true that he was able to use his influence to advance Central Afghanistan government objectives.  It will be very interesting to follow in the weeks and months ahead how this plays out in terms of local and regional politics as well as national politics.  No doubt, President Karzai will be hard-pressed to find someone on whom he could count as much as his brother. 

Do you think that current events in that area exacerbate regional instability?

Yes.  Events of this nature, whether caused by the Taliban or internal tribal players, do not contribute to the stability of the region.  That doesn't necessarily mean that the successes of the past year cannot be sustained, but there are now new challenges which will have to be met.

Do you see this allowing for more progession in the south now that he is gone? He was just as much if not more a negative influence than positive.

While may people saw him as a negative influence, there were many others that saw him in a positive vein.  So this plays both ways.  Again, the challenges for the Afghan government, the regional council of which he was the head and the ISAF forces have just been increased.  Any such change will cause uncertainty until a new circle of influential players emerges. 

Who will fill the operational/political/economic vacuum that has been left by AWK? Will it be Abdul Razzik? Or are there other lesser known players?

That answer is to be determined.  Abdul Raziq is certainly a contender, but we must remember that there are many tribal, sub-tribal, and family components to this equation. 

On of the articles on the Post website lays out that analysts within the US governement are divided on whether Ahmed Wali Karzai's turnaround was a genuine (or effective?) one, and that they are therefore divided on what the impact of his assassination will be. Can you present the best arguments for either view? The article did a decent job of explaining that many thought he was now aligning his intests with those of others in the area and that his loss will create an uncertain vacuum. However, I'd like to understand better the counterpoint, that Ahmed Wali Karzai continued to be a barrier to stability and that his absence now opens up the possibility of something better---an awfully optimistic view of what might happen in a power vacuum in Afghanistan, right?

Your contention that it would be an optimistic view that something better is now in the offing.  One cannot discount the impact of Wali Karzai's influence in recent successes just as the article you cite suggests.  Again, the most important thing to keep in mind is the vacuum, which you also mention, which has been created.  It will take time to see how this all plays out.  This is a region where there are competitive relationships, even among the dominant Durrani Pashtoon tribes and sub-tribes.  During the period in which Wali Karzai was so influential, there was a modus operandi over which he presided.  That could change now, obviously, within this vacuum which you mention.  

What benefit is there for the Taliban to claim this act?

The Taliban and other insurgent elements rely upon intimidation and instability.  Assassinations create both, at least for the short-term.  Making such claims keeps them in the news and heightens their capacity, at least for intimidating.

Does not President Karzai have foreign bodyguards while nobody else does?

President Karzai did have foreign bodyguards.  It is my understanding that that is in the process of some transition to include Afghans as well.  Some other Afghan officials also had foreign bodyguards at different times during the last ten years.  

Who do you see as filling his shoes? Or is there one person who can do that?

At this stage, I am not able to predict who that person might be.  There are so many intangibles and variables that it will take time to see who emerges, even should somebody be named quickly as a replacement.  Such a naming does not necessarily ensure that the power and influence will reside in that particular person. 

Will Afghanistan take this to the UN for an investigation?

I don't think that will be the course that will be followed.  I think that Afghans themselves will try to determine why this event occurred at this time. 

An important consideration to keep in mind is that this is the second member of President Hamid Karzai's immediate family to be assassinated in the last decade.  His father, Abdul Ahad Karzai, was assassinated in Quetta, Pakistan by the consortium of the Unholy Alliance of the ISI, Al Qaida, and Taliban.  It is a great loss to lose both one's father and one's brother due to political and/or internal rivalry considerations.  

You mentioned earlier that the assassination of AWK could possibly be an inside job. Although this is pure speculation, is it possible that his murder was meant to create instability with the ultimate purpose of keeping ISF forces (particularly American) in Afghanistan for a longer period of time?

In any consideration of an inside job, it is more likely that the intent had to do with family or tribal or personal considerations.  Therefore, if it was an inside job, the ultimate purpose was not related to the tenure of ISAF forces in Afghanistan.  If it was not an inside job, the objectives of the Taliban would not be, obviously, to keep American/ISAF forces in Afghanistan for a longer period of time.

USA = World's policeman again. Except the military are not the same as law enforcement and their purpose is not to invade, occupy and impose martial law on other sovereign nations. Meanwhile the war profiteers have been made more wealthy and powerful than ever while we the people see our nation head down the third world toilet. Are there any decent non-greedy non-rabidly ideological human beings left in the Pentagon, DC, military industrial corporate complex who actually have any logic much less care about OUR citizens?

A bit of a loaded question.  We must remember that the American presence in Afghanistan is part of an overall conflict against the terrorism of the Al Qaida syndicate and its franchises.  These threaten American interests worldwide.  The US went to Afghanistan to pursue those who attacked us on 9/11.  The fact that we are there in a more protracted presence in large measure is due to the fact that we drifted away from Afghanistan to pursue ill-advised and ill-conceived strategies in Iraq. 

Given the tribal nature of politics in southern Afghanistan, do you think this will provide fertile ground for the Taliban to co-opt local strongmen and khans who were in the periphery of Wali's circle of influence?

Not likely.  The give and take of tribal politics will continue, as they have over the last decade.  At this stage, the Taliban are not as able to influence and intimidate in the South of Afghanistan as they had been a couple of years ago. 

If it is found that the Taliban did not carry out the assassination, does them claiming false responsibility for it suggest anything about the current state of their organization?

It does.  The Taliban are under tremendous pressure from the ISAF forces militarily and increasing, though inconsistent, pressure from certain elements of the Pakistani government.  Their making such claims is a product of their diminishing capacities to confront international and Afghan forces in conventional and guerrilla military fighting. 

Thank you for your interest in keeping up with a more in-depth analysis of the events of Afghanistan that a newspaper like the Washington Post can provide.

In This Chat
Tom Gouttierre
Thomas E. Gouttierre serves as the Dean of International Studies and Programs (IS&P) and Director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). Gouttierre has testified on various topics related to Afghanistan, US-Pakistani Relations, International Terrorism, and Human Rights before hearings of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the US House of Representatives Committee on International Relations. He has also testified on Afghanistan and Human Rights Issues in hearings before committees of the British Parliament, the French National Assembly, the Norwegian Storting, and the UN Select Committee on Human Rights. Since 1986, Gouttierre has served on the US - Russian (formerly Soviet Union) Task Force (Dartmouth Conference) on Regional Conflicts. He is a Board Member of the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue.
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