The killing of Ahmed Wali Karzai has created more uncertainties in Afghanistan. The controversial half-brother of the Afghan President Hamid Karzai, shot dead at his home by a man identified as a trusted family aide, was the leader of the provincial council of Kandahar, which is often described as the country's strategic centre. It is here that the Taliban was born and is most powerful. Since the beginning of 2010, Kandahar has been the focus, along with neighbouring Helmand, of NATO and U.S. military efforts to contain the Taliban before the planned withdrawal of troops. Ahmed Wali was seen as crucial to these efforts. He ran Kandahar like a potentate, with his seemingly unlimited supply of money and guns, and he was known as an artful manipulator of Pashtun tribal politics, bolstering his brother's fragile presidency in a hostile region. He maintained contacts with the Taliban, and was considered pivotal to efforts at negotiating with them. At one time, it seemed that U.S. officials in Afghanistan were trying their best to oust Ahmed Wali. They were worried that his reputation for being corrupt and ruthless — he was alleged to have siphoned off chunks of international aid money and to have a role in the lucrative narcotics trade — would hurt their efforts to win the hearts and minds of Afghans. President Karzai and his brother staunchly denied the allegations. Finally, Washington decided it was wiser to co-opt him, and he became a trusted asset in southern Afghanistan. In any case, as The New York Times revealed in October 2009, he was on the CIA's payroll for helping it raise a secret paramilitary for anti-Taliban operations.

It is unclear if the man who killed Ahmed Wali did so out of personal motives or on the orders of the Taliban, even though the Taliban have claimed the assassination. Since 2010, they have carried out a number of high-profile killings in Kandahar — their victims include the provincial police chief, the deputy governor, and the deputy mayor. The elimination of Ahmed Wali, who seemed at times to wield more influence than his brother, has left the government in Kandahar in disarray. It has certainly weakened President Karzai, even though another brother has taken over as head of the Populzai tribe to which the Karzais belong. The assassination complicates the international military effort in Kandahar; it has removed a link to the Taliban and could prove a setback to drawing them into negotiations. That the death of one man with a reputation beyond notorious can have such far-reaching consequences is the tragic reality of Afghanistan today — and of the brutal war imposed on its people by the United States.

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