Turban bomb kills Kandahar mayor – and leaves Karzai bereft of allies

The Independent

As Nato prepares to pull out, the Taliban is positioning itself to step into the vacuum

A suicide bomber has killed the mayor of Kandahar City, depriving the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, of yet another ally in southern Afghanistan just as Nato troops start pulling out of the insurgency-wracked country.

The murder of Ghulam Haider Hamidi, a childhood friend of the Karzai family and a naturalised US citizen, who had returned to Afghanistan at the President’s personal request, comes just two weeks after a trusted bodyguard gunned down Ahmed Wali Karzai, the President’s half-brother.

The hit eliminates one of the leading contenders to become Kandahar’s next governor, leaving the way open for Gul Agha Sherzai, a bear of a man who dispenses patronage like one of Afghanistan’s kings of old. A nominal Karzai ally, Mr Sherzai will almost certainly consolidate lucrative Nato contracts and drugs revenues for his own family if he gets the nod, diminishing Mr Karzai’s influence in the south. Read the rest of this entry »

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Kandahar Mayor’s Killing Another Blow to U.S. Afghanistan Effort

Time.com

The latest victim in a string of killings of local officials loyal to President Hamid Karzaai, Ghulam Haider Hamidi tried to build good governance against the odds

An honest man in a city of thieves, Kandahar mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi once exemplified hopes that the U.S.-led nation-building effort would leave behind a better Afghanistan. His killing by a suicide bomber on Wednesday, less than two weeks after the slaying of Kandahar’s strongman provincial council chairman Ahmed Wali Karzai, underscores the declining prospects of the Western military mission there.

“More than 50 percent of the violence comes from these corrupt people, the ones who sit with you and smile,” Hamidi told the Washington Post earlier this year. The former accountant had returned to Kandahar in 2007 after 30 years in the United States. Having been invited to serve as mayor by his childhood friend Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Hamidi said goodbye to the comfort of his northern Virginia home and threw himself into the maelstrom of the southern Afghan city’s politics. He initiated a slew of projects — from paving roads to collecting taxes and building schools — intended to revitalize the city, and made a name for himself trying to root out graft and curb the power of local strongmen and warlords on whom he blamed Kandahar’s ills. Read the rest of this entry »


Killing of Karzai’s Adviser Takes Another Hit at the President’s Circle

Time.com

The second high-profile assassination of an Afghan politician in a week, the killing of Hamid Karzai’s long-time adviser Jan Mohammad Khan has Afghans worrying that anyone close to the President is a target

Gunfire rang out again Sunday night in Kabul, first as single shots and then in stuttering bursts, as two gunmen stormed the villa of President Hamid Karzai’s long-standing confidante Jan Mohammad Khan. Armed with AK-47s and grenades, the attackers shot their way into the compound in a leafy quarter of Kabul called Kart-e-Sey, at around 8 p.m. They knocked out Khan’s son with the butt of a rifle and killed a guard, according to an officer on the scene with Kabul’s criminal-investigations department. Then they shot Khan as he sat on a couch, chatting with a member of parliament who had come to visit.

Khan and the MP Mohammad Hashem Watanwal died instantly, but what followed ran for eight and a half hours as the attackers took hostages and holed up inside the villa. A rapid-reaction force from the Afghan police and intelligence services slowly closed the net, killing one assailant with a direct shot and freeing the last of the hostages shortly before midnight. As dawn broke, and the house burned after the gunmen threw 13 grenades according to one police source, counter-terrorism officers and their foreign advisers ended the siege, blowing apart the wall of the bathroom in which the last surviving attacker was concealed, killing him.

That was the easy part. Khan’s death is the second high-profile assassination of an Afghan politician in a week, and will almost certainly add to the shivers of uncertainty rippling across Afghanistan. His peach-colored compound may hardly have been Fort Knox (Khan apparently sent all but one of his guards home each evening) and the Uruzgan strongman may not have been the power that once he was. But taken in conjunction with the assassinations of President Karzai’s half-brother on July 12, and the police chief for northern Afghanistan, General Daud Daud, earlier this summer, Khan’s killing plays right into the Taliban narrative that no one, no matter how close to Karzai, is safe from their assassination campaign. Read the rest of this entry »


Killing of Afghan President’s brother leaves power vacuum

The Independent

Politician was vital to Hamid Karzai’s fight against Taliban

Ahmed Wali Karzai, half-brother to the Afghan President and one of the country’s most powerful politicians, was assassinated by a bodyguard yesterday, leaving a power vacuum in a crucial province as foreign powers prepare to start withdrawing troops.

Mr Karzai was shot in the head and the chest as he met constituents at his home in Kandahar. Witnesses told The Independent that the assailant, a bodyguard and long-term family friend called Sardar Mohammad, interrupted a meeting between Mr Karzai and two other local politicians.

Waving a file and citing personal business, Mohammad asked to speak privately with his boss. Moments after they stepped next door, shots rang out. Guards shot Mohammad and rushed Mr Karzai to hospital but he was dead on arrival. Read the rest of this entry »


“Bin Laden’s code name was ‘Binoculars’…” – a Taliban judge in his own words

Here’s a partial transcript of an interview with a Taliban judge conducted just after Osama bin Laden was killed. His nom de guerre is Khanjari, and he operates in Pana in Giro district in Ghazni province.

We sleep in the mountains at night, in the hills, in caves, and by day we’re moving from village to village. It’s a hard life. In our own country. Sometimes when we go home there are choppers in the sky. Sometimes we stay an hour and go. Sometimes we stay a night or two nights or three… high-ranking Talibs are lucky to see their families once every three months. We have comrades who haven’t seen their families for years because too many villagers know them, know who they are, know what their motorbike looks like. They can be easily identified and detected. So that’s why they stay away. I’ve seen my mother twice since last autumn. She came to my uncle’s house, which is as far from here to Maidan Shah, and I have a secret cellphone number, which she has. If I have network coverage she’ll call me and I’ll answer and we’ll meet. When I first joined the Taliban I was able to live with her and my father but now she knows that if go back home, I couldn’t live there, even if I surrendered, abandoned the war and my job. Each time we meet she cries. Sometimes she says forget about leaving your job. She knows even if I give up I can’t live there anymore. Read the rest of this entry »


First, Take Nuristan: The Taliban’s New Afghan Plan

Time.com

Historically, Nuristan province has been key to power in Afghanistan, and the militants and their non-Afghan allies are slowly taking control there

Every morning at 8, Maulawi Zahir heads into Waygal district center, a remote mountain village of stone houses stacked almost vertically up granite slopes. As the undeniable man in charge of the Afghan village, the Taliban leader is there to hear and settle disputes. But despite his group’s ascendancy, he struggles to burnish his credentials among his constituents, even in an area where loathing for NATO and the Afghan government runs deep. “People aren’t happy, but they pretend to be,” says one local trader. “They dislike the Taliban as much as they dislike government.”

Zahir’s attempt at daily dispute resolution is important in one respect: for the first time in almost a decade the Taliban are administering an Afghan district unmolested. In fact, Waygal has been almost completely abandoned by NATO for the past three years. For the insurgents — and their non-Afghan militant allies from Pakistan and Arabic-speaking countries — it is the most visible step in a longer term strategy to turn Nuristan, itself virtually given up by the alliance since 2009, into a militant hub and a staging post for attacks on strategic targets, including the capital, Kabul. Read the rest of this entry »


Why the Taliban Won’t Miss bin Laden

Time.com

The goals of Afghanistan’s insurgency are national, and even many Taliban leaders resented al-Qaeda’s presence on their turf

As the sun rose, the men from the raiding party chanted verses from the Koran, spread their checkered scarves on the dirt and prayed for Osama bin Laden’s swift passage to paradise. It was a ritual they’d performed a hundred times for their fallen comrades. But there were no outbursts of grief or pledges of vengeance. Bin Laden had been a good Muslim, said the small, wiry Taliban judge leading the ritual. Bin Laden had surrendered a life of luxury for one of hardship, and his “death on the battlefield” was befitting. Beyond that, as far as the Taliban are concerned, “his death had no impact,” said the judge, who goes by the nom de guerre Khanjari (and whose identity was confirmed by a member of Afghanistan’s security service).

“Every member of my group is as brave as Osama,” Khanjari continued. “The only difference is he had more money … My friends mean more to me than him. Any one of us would take a bullet for each other.” For the Taliban, bin Laden’s death has been far less important than some in the West may have hoped. Read the rest of this entry »