Ahmad Wali Karzai: Meeting Kandahar's Mr Fix-it

Ahmad Wali Karzai talked to Lyse Doucet in April about death threats

A high-profile half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been shot dead by an aide in Kandahar. The BBC's Lyse Doucet met Ahmad Wali Karzai and recalls her impressions of the controversial politician.

He tried to give an air of being an ordinary man who lived a simple life with his family in Kandahar, who did the best he could in a difficult and dangerous land.

But see him in action and his power was palpable.

On my last visit in late April, his heavily secured compound was packed with turbaned tribesmen sitting cross-legged on the floor. They came to him from across the province with every possible problem - financial aid for a sick child; arbitrary arrests; Taliban threats.

Former Taliban sat in the room too - proof, he said, he was winning them over.

It was like a traditional Kandahar assembly line. Men were ushered in with a traditional Pashtun greeting, a complaint or story told, a phone call made or message scribbled on an aide's notepad.

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His sudden death now leaves a dangerous vacuum. He was both a stabilising and a polarising figure”

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They were out, in a matter of minutes, for tea and lunch outside.

He was Mr Kandahar, Mr Fix-it. And he did.

Vacuum

What we did not see were the other meetings he said he had to attend that took him out of the public eye, sometimes for a day or more.

Ahmed Wali had business interests, his own security forces - some called a private army - and dealings with everyone who mattered, friend and foe.

His sudden death now leaves a dangerous vacuum. He was both a stabilising and a polarising figure.

President Karzai relied on his younger half-brother to consolidate his tribal and political sway in the south. Ahmad Wali was his not-so-secret weapon in winning elections in this Pashtun heartland and protecting the Karzai family interests.

Whenever the tribes were assembled, there were whispers it was the Karzai tribe (the Popalzai), who were favoured.

The president's first comments were measured. But the death of his brother may deepen his anger and bitterness over the West's military strategy.

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Whether or not the Taliban killed Ahmed Wali, some will believe their claim. Many will wonder who is safe”

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Linchpin

Despite persistent allegations of corruption, drug dealing and abuses of power, Ahmed Wali was also the point man for US-led Nato forces. He always denied the charges.

Western officers and officials talked of moving him out of the way, but they never did, or could.

As was the case across Afghanistan, they believed they had to rely on Kandahar's strongman to try to win over the tribes and win the war against the Taliban.

The manoeuvring will now begin to step into his very big sandals. Would another one of the Karzai brothers be able and willing to handle Kandahar?

There are military commanders in the south who have won praise from foreign forces. There are "can-do" warlords with strong tribal connections.

None of them are free of controversy. All have charge sheets of their own.

Whoever emerges will upset the network of contacts nurtured, sometimes forcefully, by Ahmed Wali. His death comes in the midst of a "fighting season" that the government, backed by Nato forces, had hoped to gain the momentum in this war.

On my last visit to the city, Kandaharis spoke of their constant fear of attack, by either Taliban or US led forces. They hedged their bets, backing both sides until it was clear who would prevail.

Taliban claim

Ahmad Wali was one of the few Afghans I spoke to in Kandahar who said they were winning that war. He said he wanted foreign forces to stay, admitting the president did not agree with him.

Like most strong men, he depended on family and fellow tribesmen to protect him.

It is too soon to say why one of his most trusted men pulled the trigger. Sardar Mohammed, from the same village of Karz, may have been harbouring a longstanding grievance. Or it may be, as the Taliban declared, he was turned.

The Taliban launched this year's campaign with a warning of more violence and assassinations. They have taken responsibility for killing the powerful General Daud Daud, who was in charge of security in the north, along with the police chief in Takhar province.

They have attacked in relatively peaceful provinces like Herat and Bamiyan, and carried out multiple suicide bombings in Kandahar and Kabul.

Whether or not the Taliban killed Ahmed Wali, some will believe their claim. Many will wonder who is safe.

And the old Afghan adage - "whoever controls Kandahar, controls Afghanistan " - will resonate. Right now, it is not clear who does.

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