South Asia

Obituary: Ahmad Wali Karzai

Ahmad Wali Karzai
Image caption Mr Karzai was an important power-broker who helped shore up his brother's influence in the volatile south

Ahmad Wali Karzai, the younger half-brother of the Afghan president and leader of the Kandahar Provincial Council, was one his country's most controversial politicians.

To his supporters he was a man of the people, a gallant defender of Pashtun rights who had the authority through his links to the president to offer a peaceful alternative to the violence served up by the Taliban.

To his critics Mr Karzai was a warlord mired in corruption who was openly involved in the drugs trade, with a personal militia at his disposal.

They saw him as the personification of Afghan cronyism, typifying all that is wrong with the Karzai administration.

The president - who has lost a key political fixer - repeatedly defended him, denouncing accusations that his brother was involved in criminal activities in the restive south.

What was not disputed in the years prior to his death was Mr Karzai's ability to attract uncomplimentary headlines.

That was the case even before he was alleged by the New York Times in October 2009 to have been paid by the CIA for nine years.

The newspaper has also accused him of operating a CIA-bankrolled Afghan paramilitary force to conduct raids on the Taliban around Kandahar, and of being involved in the heroin trade.

As the head of the provincial council, Mr Karzai was considered the main power in the province.

The BBC's Bilal Sarwary says that his mansion in Kandahar city was renowned for having large amounts of cash stashed in its cupboards.

There had been discussions shortly before Mr Karzai's death as to whether he might be appointed the next governor of Kandahar - an appointment that would formally have recognised his power base.

Bomb-filled tanker

Given his colourful background it was perhaps hardly surprising that this most well-connected of politicians was the target of several assassination attempts.

The desire of his enemies to exterminate him seldom diminished over the last decade.

One of the first of these assassination attempts took place at his wedding in 2004 - a ceremony that was attended by President Karzai.

In May 2009 Mr Karzai said that one of his bodyguards had been killed by unknown attackers using rockets and machine-guns on his convoy as it was travelling to Kabul.

Image caption Mr Karzai often served as a key political fixer for his brother

In 2008, he was chairing a meeting in a government building when a bomb-filled fuel tanker exploded close by, killing six people.

And five years before that, Mr Karzai's house was hit by an explosion which he said was caused "accidentally" when some weapons were being moved.

Ahmad Wali Karzai was born in the southern city of Karz in 1961. He had a sister and six brothers, including Hamid Karzai.

Mr Karzai always kept details of his own family life strictly private - some reports say that he is survived by two sons and three daughters - with his youngest son born about a month ago.

He always strenuously denied any wrongdoing - especially in relation to drugs and corruption - and had to vigorously defend himself on numerous occasions over the last 16 years. The allegations against him included:

  • Living rent-free in 2001 in a house owned by a known drugs trafficker
  • Being directly involved in the international drugs trade, an accusation made during an Afghan parliamentary debate in 2007
  • Orchestrating voter fraud during the August 2009 presidential elections
  • Operating a CIA-funded militia to attack Taliban targets in and around Kandahar

"I am not a drug dealer, I never was and I never will be. I am a victim of vicious politics," Mr Karzai said in October 2009 following the publication of the New York Times allegations.

At the same time he was forced to fend off the CIA militia allegations and repeat his refrain that far from deploying a militia to hit Taliban targets, he was in fact reaching out to them - and claimed to have brokered a truce with the militants in Kandahar prior to the August elections.

"I don't know anyone under the name of the CIA and I have never received any money from any organisation. I help, definitely. I help other Americans wherever I can. But this is my duty as an Afghan," he said.

While it is difficult to prove the case against Mr Karzai, there is evidence to suggest that some Americans saw him in the later years of his life as a liability.

Others however continued to see him as a powerful actor, capable of organising deals with Taliban factions willing to lay down their arms because of his powerful - if somewhat murky - connections in Kandahar province.

Following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, coalition generals had come to see Mr Karzai as the "go-to" man to get things done in southern Afghanistan.

In 2007 he was recommended for an overseas ambassadorial post by the US ambassador in Kabul - allegedly as a means for President Karzai to avoid any more fraternal embarrassment - but the president rejected the move.

At the time of his death, the case against Mr Karzai's younger brother remains unproven.

"I have requested from our intelligence sources and law enforcement folks the smoking gun, the evidence... and nobody has [produced it]," US Senator John Kerry said in October 2009.

By July 2011 that decisive evidence was still not forthcoming - the president's younger sibling remained a key player in the complicated power politics of Afghanistan throughout his life.