Thursday, July 14, 2011

A normal Tuesday... until the killing

MR AHMED Wali Karzai was conducting business in his normal fashion on Tuesday, holding court as 60 to 70 people filled his large residence that also served as his office in central Kandahar province, when one of his most faithful commanders asked to speak to him alone - and shot him at point-blank range.

The head of the elected provincial council, he wielded power far beyond that office, both because he was a half-brother to President Hamid Karzai and because he had amassed great wealth and power over business, security and administrative affairs in Kandahar and much of southern Afghanistan.

Every day, his office was filled with petitioners, provincial officials and tribal and family friends who came to seek his advice and support on business matters, political dealings and tribal disputes.

On Tuesday morning, he sat for half an hour with former legislator Mir Wali from Helmand province, who is one of those contesting recent parliamentary election results. Then fellow provincial councillor Haji Agha Lalai entered and requested five minutes of Mr Karzai's time. The two descended to the first floor and sat for a few minutes before an old man from the city requested a hearing.

Mr Karzai moved into a room with the old man, and it was then that a commander Sardar Muhammad, 40, asked to see Mr Karzai alone. He was carrying a file and wanted Mr Karzai to look inside it, said Mr Haji Sayed Jan, a close colleague who is seen as his deputy on the council.

The commander was well-known and so trusted by the Karzai family that he would pick up and carry Mr Karzai's young son into the family quarters. For his services, he had been awarded a plot of land in an upscale Kandahar housing development. He also commanded about 100 men and managed the police posts in an area adjoining the family neighbourhood.

Said Mr Jan: 'There was no argument between Sardar Muhammad and Ahmed Wali.' The commander had been working with the Karzai family for eight years and came from the same tribe, he said.

Yet he came to Karzai on Tuesday with a purpose, opening fire as soon as they went inside the room, Mr Jan said. 'He came deliberately to kill him. He gave him a file and told him he should look at it, and as he was looking he took out his pistol and shot him.'

None of those who knew the commander accepted the Taleban's claim that he was acting on behalf of insurgents. Two people who knew him said he was a drug user, and suggested that he became angry over some dispute with Mr Karzai.

Witnesses said guards burst into the room as soon as they heard the first shot and killed the commander as he fired off a third bullet. Mr Karzai was shot twice in the head and once in the hand, said Mr Lalai, who was in the next room when the shooting began.