(Updates with bomb blast in fifth paragraph.)
July 13 (Bloomberg) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai buried his younger brother who was assassinated in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar yesterday, underscoring the country’s security challenge as the U.S. begins to withdraw troops.
The funeral of Ahmed Wali Karzai, 50, took place today in Karz, the family’s ancestral village in Kandahar, where he dominated politics as head of the provincial council, Afghan state television reported. Ahmed Wali was shot dead at his home yesterday by a senior bodyguard. A spokesman for the Taliban said the movement had secretly recruited the gunman.
President Barack Obama last month announced that the U.S. will begin pulling its troops out of Afghanistan this year and start transferring control to Afghan forces. Ahmed Wali’s death raises questions over Karzai’s ability to provide security for the country’s leaders, let alone ordinary Afghans, said Waliullah Rahmani, director of the Kabul Center for Strategic Studies.
“This is a strategic and psychological blow for President Karzai,” Rahmani said. “Afghans will now ask if Karzai’s government cannot protect his own brother in his home and stronghold in Kandahar, what security can he bring to Afghanistan in general?”
A convoy carrying the governor of neighboring Helmand province and his police chief to today’s funeral was hit by a roadside bomb, wounding two guards, Lotfullah Mashal, spokesman for the National Directorate of Security, said by phone.
During Hamid Karzai’s near-decade as Afghanistan’s leader, Ahmed Wali, his younger brother by four years, remained in Kandahar, the country’s second-largest city and the political center for the south.
Ahmed Wali ran a political fiefdom that was seen as corrupt and suspected of drug-dealing and that for years undermined support for his brother and for the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Taliban, according to a study of Kandahar politics last year by the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
Ahmed Wali Karzai’s “influence over Kandahar is the central obstacle to any of ISAF’s governance objectives,” the report by the institute said, referring to the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
“Wali Karzai’s behavior and waning popularity among local populations promote instability and provide space for the Taliban to exist,” Carl Forsberg, an analyst who specializes in southern Afghan politics, wrote in the report.
Hamid Karzai said his brother’s killing reflected the life of the Afghan people, adding that hopefully their “suffering will end.” French President Nicolas Sarkozy, appearing alongside Karzai at a Kabul press conference yesterday, said the shooting showed “the tragic destiny of every Afghan.”
Karzai was killed at 11:30 a.m. by a bodyguard, Sardar Mohammad, Kandahar’s provincial government spokesman, Zalmai Ayoubi, said by phone. Mohammad “had come to the house for some work and he opened fire on Karzai,” Ayoubi said. Other guards ran in and shot Mohammad, who had commanded Karzai’s guards for seven years, he said.
General Abdul Razaq, the police chief of Kandahar, said at a press conference that Karzai was shot in the head and chest as he left a bathroom having washed before prayers. Provincial Governor Tooryalai Wesa said several arrests had been made.
The Taliban in the past has claimed responsibility for attacks that it has been found later not to have conducted.
The New York Times and other U.S. newspapers have cited U.S. and Afghan officials as saying Ahmed Wali was suspected of drug dealing, an allegation that both Karzai brothers denied.
He had been the target of previous attacks. In 2009, Taliban guerrillas assaulted his office at the provincial council headquarters in Kandahar. In the same year his convoy came under rocket and machine-gun fire near Kabul, Agence France-Presse reported.
Obama said last month that the U.S. will withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan, where they are fighting the Taliban, before the end of this year and an additional 23,000 by September 2012. Other nations have announced their own troop reduction plans.
France, which yesterday said it plans to withdraw a quarter of its 4,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of 2012, will pull together a five-year France-Afghan development plan, Sarkozy said in Kabul.
“We should not abandon Afghanistan, but the manner in which we help them is going to change,” Sarkozy said. “The withdrawal of troops is not disengagement. Afghanistan needs to be taken charge of by the Afghans.”
--With assistance from Helene Fouquet in Paris. Editors: Mark Williams, Ben Richardson
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