When I heard about the assassination of Ahmed Wali Karzai, godfather of Kandahar and half-brother of President Karzai, I thought back to my meeting with him in May in his home.
I had to pass through a phalanx of heavily armed guards at the entrance to his walled compound, and Karzai himself was not very keen to see me.
As we sat in his reception room, on plush brown couches, he was blunt, rejecting widespread charges, put forward in the past by U.S. civilian and military officials, that he was corrupt and dealt in drugs. AWK, as he was known, sneered at the angry claims - which I heard constantly from well-informed Kandaharis - that he feathered his family’s nest and appointed corrupt (or inept) relatives and family friends to senior posts. (Many thought AWK’s corruption fed Taliban recruitment).
He had good reason to sneer. Unable to budge him (given President Karzai’s strong support and his tribal support networks), or unwilling to risk the fallout, U.S. officials had given up trying to push him out. There had even been talk of letting him officially become governor (at his death he was the elected head of the provincial council, but without doubt the most powerful person in Kandahar province, whose governor is a weak Canadian-Afghan academic and Karzai family friend.)
"The Americans realized I am a reliable person and they can trust me," he told me. "We are working for the same cause. You cannot accuse a person forever - it was just allegations. Everyone realized it was just allegations. I appreciate their support."
AWK also apparently appreciated CIA support: he was reportedly on the CIA’s payroll for years, even though he denied it, and even though this reportedly created, at one point, a stand-off between military officials who wanted him out and spooks who wanted him in.
Now AWK is dead, and U.S. officials/President Karzai will have a tough time filling the power vacuum. They not only have to find someone who can balance tribal factions - and hopefully is a bit less corrupt - but is willing to risk assassination. Neither U.S. nor Afghan security seems able to prevent the killing of a series of top officials in Kandahar.
You can listen to my video about the interview below.