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Karzai's Half-Brother Assassinated In Kandahar


Let's go next to Afghanistan, where the half-brother of President Hamid Karzai was assassinated today. It happened at his home in the southern part of the country, in the city of Kandahar.

Ahmed Wali Karzai was repeatedly accused of corruption and of having links to drug trafficking, yet he was a very significant politician in Afghanistan, and the Afghan president continued to defend him.

We're going to talk about this now with NPR's Quil Lawrence. He's covering the story from Kabul.

Quil, what's known so far for sure about this killing?

QUIL LAWRENCE: Sources in Kandahar say that it was a long-time family associate and a security official, a police commander named Sardar Mohammad, who shot Mr. Karzai twice and was then gunned down by other guards. And it took place inside Ahmed Wali Karzai's home in Kandahar. So this was inside a heavy security cordon that was meant to protect Ahmed Wali Karzai from assassination attempts that might include massive car bombs. But this assassin was, of course, able to gain entry because he, for almost 10 years, had been a close associate.

The Taliban have claimed responsibility, but it's producing a lot of skepticism that they possibly could have recruited a man who had been so close to Karzai for so long. The Taliban do often take responsibility for these incidents as soon as they happen, whether it's clear they were responsible or not.

INSKEEP: Is Ahmed Wali Karzai the kind of man who could have had, actually, a long list of potential enemies?

LAWRENCE: Absolutely. His involvement - alleged involvement in narco-trafficking in many - very lucrative security contracts, in tribal disputes in Kandahar as he rose to power with President Karzai's government produced many, many enemies. Certainly, the Taliban would have considered him a number-one enemy, but there would be no shortage of others.

Allegations were never proven about his connection to the drug trade, but WikiLeaks from the U.S. embassy imply that American officials still considered him to be involved in illicit activity. At the same time, he was allegedly on the CIA payroll, and was seen by many Americans - military officials - as sort of a strong man who might be able to keep order in Kandahar.

The flip-side of that was that this alleged corruption was seen as a major recruiting theme for insurgents, who said this is a symbol of the American puppet, the Karzai government that is corrupt. And that's what we, the insurgents, will replace.

INSKEEP: Some Americans were baffled as to why President Hamid Karzai would have stood by his half-brother so strongly in the face of so many allegations against him. Do you have a better sense there in Kabul of why Hamid Karzai did stay with his half-brother to the end?

LAWRENCE: President Karzai was speaking at a pre-scheduled press conference today with the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who was visiting. And he gave a very subdued, controlled statement that his brother was dead, and that he hoped that this sorrow afflicting the Afghan people would end soon.

He stood by his brother for years, and part of it is something about, I suppose, Afghan culture that many outsiders might see as cronyism, whereas here, it's just seen as a simple duty that's expected of anyone, to hire in family members, members of their clan.

In the past, I spoke with Western officials years ago who had heard Karzai essentially saying: What can I do? He's my brother. They'd been suggesting that he move Ahmed Wali Karzai to an embassy, make him ambassador a country outside Afghanistan. But he seemed unable to act against his brother, and there are several other Karzai brothers who were involved in huge corruption scandals here.

The perception, I think, now, however, is changing from seeing Karzai as perhaps a victim of his brothers to now seeing him as part of this endemic corruption that just can't be rooted out of the Afghan government.

INSKEEP: NPR's Quil Lawrence is in Kabul, where we're learning more about the assassination of Ahmed Wali Karzai, half-brother of President Hamid Karzai. It happened today in Kandahar.

Quil, thanks very much.

LAWRENCE: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.