Will the Karzai Clan Be Able to Hang On to Kandahar?

Time.com

After the President buried his half-brother, he appointed another sibling to lead their tribe. But will that prevent a rebalancing of power in the troubled province?

They came to bury Ahmed Wali Karzai from Afghanistan and beyond, flying in on charter planes and arriving in armored convoys to pay their last respects to the man dubbed the “King of Kandahar.” Family and friends joined a funeral cortege of thousands as it made its way, under the watchful guard of helicopter gunships, from Kandahar City to the small village 12 miles away, where the Afghan President’s half-brother was born in 1961. Among the mourners were government ministers, parliamentarians and provincial governors, some dabbing their eyes with the silk of their turbans. Shortly after 7 a.m. on Wednesday, President Hamid Karzai slipped off his moccasins and stepped into his half-brother’s grave to bid the Kandahar strongman a last goodbye. Their relationship may not always have been easy, but those close to Karzai say it ran deep, and that the President has been devastated by Ahmed Wali’s murder.

Then the King of Kandahar’s brother was off from the village grave, whisked away in a motorcade of black SUVs before anyone could make another attempt against the Karzai family. (One guest had been less lucky but still fortunate, saved from a Taliban bomb blast as he traveled to the funeral by the reinforced armor of his car.)

Back in Kandahar City at a fortress-like mansion, Karzai’s first task was to anoint a successor to Ahmed Wali as de facto leader of the Popalzai tribe, from which the Karzai family hails. It was from his role as a tribal leader that Ahmed Wali drew much of his power, and Karzai chose another half-brother, Shah Wali Karzai, crowning him with a turban in front of the assembled chieftans. “Tribal leaders have proposed for me to replace martyred Ahmed Wali Karzai with Shah Wali Karzai as your tribal elder,” Karzai intoned. It was the President’s first move to repair the vast tear in Kandahar’s political fabric that Ahmed Wali’s death has left. Read the rest of this entry »


In Afghanistan war, government corruption bigger threat than Taliban

Christian Science Monitor

Warlords and government corruption may destabilize the country even more than the Taliban, say Afghan and NATO officials. The city of Kandahar reflects this central problem of the Afghanistan war.

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN

Over the past month in Kandahar CityTaliban death squads have killed dozens of people in drive-by shootings. Yet many living in this southern Afghan city say the insurgents are the least of their worries. Far more pernicious is the murky nexus of warlords and corrupt government officials whose rule some compare to mob bosses.

Indeed, the fear and corruption they perpetuate undermine efforts to build a stable government and help the Taliban win support among locals, say Afghan and NATO officials, private citizens, analysts, and local journalists. The trend echoes a pattern from the 1990s, when violence among competing warlords gave rise to the Taliban and their brutal ways of imposing law and order.

The concern was repeated in more than a dozen recent interviews: The biggest problem is not the Taliban; it is the gangster oligarchs looming over the city. Read the rest of this entry »


Marjah offensive: New Afghan governor takes office as battle rages

Christian Science Monitor

Less than two weeks into the Marjah offensive in Afghanistan, an Afghan governor flew into town on Monday and began holding meetings.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN

The shots haven’t even died away in one of NATO’s biggest offensives of its nine-year war in Afghanistan, but US State Department officials are already rushing in Afghan government staff as part of the ambitious next phase of Operation Moshtarak.

The speedy rollout in Marjah of the new US strategy to “clear, hold, and build” is part of the renewed US strategy of wresting momentum from the Taliban. But some experts warn there is no way to install good government overnight.

Ten days into the fight – with US Marines and their Afghan counterparts still advancing on Taliban fighters holed up in the north and west – Marjah’s new subdistrict governor was brought in and held a shura, or council, with local elders in the town center.

Haji Zahir will hold a flurry of similar meetings with other community representatives as soon as he is properly installed, possibly before the end of the week, in makeshift offices while the real ones are cleared of bombs and refurbished.

Civilian stabilization and governance advisers will assist him as he seeks to extend his reach as far and as quickly as possible. In the northern part of Nad-i-Ali, the district to which Marjah belongs, fighting has slackened sufficiently for development specialists to start rolling out “schools-in-a-box.” Repairs to irrigation canals are also under way.

Window of opportunity

Everyone from lowly subdistrict administrators to the government ministries in Kabul is involved in planning Marjah’s future, Western officials are keen to emphasize.

“We’ve planned to have all this in place very quickly partly because we – the Afghan government and Western advisers – feel like we have a window in which to win over the local population,” says Bay Fang, a State Department spokesperson in southern Afghanistan.

“Installing a subdistrict administrator along with governance and stabilization advisers allows the work of government to start straight away. Because basically we want to show the people that the government can deliver basic services and is a viable alternative to the Taliban.”

According to the new population-centric counterinsurgency strategy championed by top commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the real battle for Marjah – and for the rest of Afghanistan – lies in governance and security, not gunfights.

Operation Moshtarak is “in many ways … a model for the future: an Afghan-led operation supported by the coalition, deeply engaged with the people,” McChrystal told reporters on Sunday.

Short timetable

The rush to roll out a functioning local government may also reflect the tight deadline that coalition forces face in Afghanistan. Large amounts of territory remain to be cleared of insurgents, developed, and restored to Afghan sovereignty before President Barack Obama’s July 2011 deadline for a drawdown of US troops.

Operation Moshtarak is the first phase of an 18-month campaign plan mapped out by McChrystal. The focus of coalition and Afghan forces will soon switch to the neighboring province of Kandahar, where the Taliban movement spluttered to life in the early 1990s, and where power has traditionally resided in southern Afghanistan.

There, as in Marjah, troops will try to clear out the insurgents and install a new government. But the battle to win hearts and minds can be easily set back by civilian casualties. According to the Afghan government, a US airstrike on Sunday killed at least 27 civilians on the border of Uruzganand Day Kundi Provinces – NATO’s third botched bombing raid in seven days. Afghan government ministers called the strike “unjustifiable.”

Not everyone is convinced by the rapid effort to impart good governance in Marjah.

“Is [Operation Moshtarak] going to address one of the root causes of this insurgency – bad governance and exclusionary politics? That’s at the heart of it,” says a Western analyst in Kabul, who asked to go unnamed.

“What can the West bring? More resources? Yes. Better politics? Unlikely,” he says. “At the end of the day people want local leaders they can trust. That can’t be delivered overnight. That takes years. It isn’t that this operation is without value but we’ve got to get away from the idea that we can just parachute in a ready-made government.


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