Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was shot and killed Tuesday, gunned down by a bodyguard in Kandahar. The Taliban say the shooter was on their payroll.
CNN Sr. International Correspondent Nic Robertson weighs in on the relationship between the brothers, how much is known about him and how important he was to the United States and Afghanistan. The following is an edited transcript:
Q: How important was Ahmed Wali Karzai to the United States and to Afghanistan?
Robertson: He was hugely important to his brother, President Hamid Karzai, because really, he was his eyes and ears, his political fixer in the south of the country. So really, for President Karzai, he was a very important stabilizing and controlling figure in the south of Afghanistan, in the Kandahar region.
Certainly, there had been a lot of rumors about him, rumors that he was involved in the drug trade, rumors that he has built military forces that have helped on CIA-led operations inside Afghanistan, and he has certainly never been able to disquiet those rumors. And they have been around now for a number of years. But this is a man who it's very hard to find people in Kandahar who will say a bad word against him.
When I was there asking government officials about him just before Christmas last year, no one would say a bad word about him, which to me, at the time, felt very much like an indication that he was the real strongman in Kandahar. And really, that's the person that he was. Whether or not he was amassing illegal wealth, whether or not he was fixing sort of cronyism-type political deals, he was a real power broker there.
Q: What does that mean for Hamid Karzai, the president?
Robertson: Well, it puts him on a much weaker footing.
I think one of the things that we're going to see happening over the next couple years in Afghanistan - as all parties there realize that U.S. forces, NATO forces are going to draw down - we are going to see Afghans reverting to the sort of conflict that they were having before we got involved there, fighting for control of resources, of different interests within the country, and this could just be part of that bigger picture.
We have seen the police chief in Kandahar killed this year, for example, and Hamid Karzai's brother would certainly fit that picture as being somebody that many people want to get rid of in Afghanistan.
Q: Isn't that worrisome, though, when you've got American troops that are going to be pulling out of Afghanistan. What does this say about the Afghan people's ability to even protect themselves?
Robertson: The situation with him removed is certainly, in the short term, at least, and probably in the medium term, is a destabilized one in Kandahar. With him gone, that will leave the way open for other people to try and sort of flex their muscles, be it political, be it military. And they will try to do that in an environment where there are U.S. troops, where there are NATO troops, and those forces could bear the brunt of that instability.
He was a guy that coalition forces would rely on to sort of be involved in fixing deals. With him gone, those deals aren't going to get fixed, so you're going to have those failed deals spilling out into blood feuds, into fights on the streets, or whatever. It's going to be less stable.