As the United States looks toward the pull-out of its forces from the country, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai faces the uphill task of holding on to power after the killing of three of his top lieutenants over the last two months.

On Monday, U.S. General David Petraeus handed over command of the Afghan war to General John R. Allen, who has to navigate what is expected to be a turbulent transition leading to the full withdrawal of NATO forces by the end of 2014.

As NATO's focus shifts to the pull-out timetable, Mr. Karzai finds himself battling for political survival. Over the last two months, Mr. Karzai has lost three of his top inner-circle confidants. In the key southern province of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai lost his half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, who was assassinated last Tuesday. Analysts say Ahmed Karzai, who was the head of the Kandahar provincial council, was one of the most influential individuals in the south.

Aides killed

Within a week of his half-brother's killing, another top supporter of the President fell. On Sunday night, two gunmen scaled the wall of Jan Muhammad Khan's residential compound and killed him. Observers say Khan was a father figure to the Karzai brothers and exercised substantial influence in the Uruzgan province.

Two months ago, a suicide bomber killed Muhammad Daoud Daoud, the police chief of the northern Takhar province and another ally of the President.

With his political bastion breached at several points, some analysts say Mr. Karzai will find it extremely tough to face fresh Taliban offensives, which are likely to intensify as the NATO withdrawal accelerates.

Meanwhile, opposition parties representing Afghanistan's ethnic minorities have formed an alliance to confront Mr. Karzai over his perceived authoritarian moves. The ethnic Uzbeks under Rashid Dostum and the Hazara community under Mohammad Mohaqiq have closed ranks against Mr. Karzai. They have been joined by Ahmad Zia Massoud, an ethnic Tajik and brother of the slain military commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.

In terms of population, the three communities together edge out by a thin margin, the Pashtuns — the community to which Mr. Karzai belongs. Afghanistan's non-Pashtun configuration is protesting against a recent, supposedly manipulated, pro-government court ruling that disqualifies nearly a quarter of the parliamentarians elected in the September polls, thereby tightening Mr. Karzai's grip over the legislature.

More In: International | News