A few months back, I wondered aloud if Canadians were killing and dying for Kandahar’s Al Capone. Since then, there have been new revelations bolstering the case for gangster metaphors in describing the Karzai family at the head of the NATO-backed regime in Afghanistan. President Hamid’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, has come under particular scrutiny. Julius Cavendish writes in the April 3 UK Independent:

“To the inhabitants of Kandahar City, Ahmed Wali Karzai is a symbol of everything wrong with their home, an emblem of the murky nexus of warlords and criminal syndicates controlling southern Afghanistan’s largest city. In the words of some residents, the half-brother of Afghanistan’s president is accused of being a ‘warlord, a terrorist’, a narcotics trafficker, and a contract monopolist. Others won’t even mention his name. ‘I can’t tell you anything about this. I’m too scared. Someone might kill me,’ one resident said.”

Even NATO’s top civilian official in the area feels the need to reference gangster movies to describe the situation:

“‘It’s very difficult to untangle but what’s really fuelling the insurgency is groups being disenfranchised, feeling oppressed by the institutions of state and criminal syndicates,’ said Mark Sedwill, Nato’s top civilian official in Afghanistan. The message was repeated in more than a dozen interviews with Afghan and Nato officials, private citizens, analysts and local journalists. The biggest problem is not the Taliban, it’s the gangster oligarchs in charge. Or as Sedwill put it: ‘I’m not sure whether I’m watching Godfather part 2 or Godfather part 3.'”

In the face of the domination of thugs like Wali Karzai, the provincial attorney general confesses that he is impotent to enforce the law:

“In his office behind rows of blast barriers, the provincial attorney general, Mohammas Ismael Zia, told The Independent that he often has to drop cases under pressure from members of Kandahar’s ruling elite. ‘Many people call me from parliament, from the governor’s office, from the provincial council office, saying ‘Release this man, drop that case,’ he said. ‘I am a weak man. If I don’t accept their demands maybe I will get killed. They are threatening me.'”

“‘In Kandahar every criminal has a supporter and the supporter wants him released from custody,’ he said. ‘There are many warlords in Kandahar City. Don’t write their names. If I don’t accept their demands, they can make many problems for me. They could kill me or remove me from this job. So sometimes I ignore the rules.'”

This climate of impunity has also been alleged to have held up the investigation into the murder of an 18-year-old relative of President Karzai, gunned down in October 2009 in Kandahar allegedly as a result of a decades-old family feud. Relatives in the United States were so frustrated at the Afghan authorities’ inaction that they contacted the FBI and later the New York Times in order to expose the tragic story.

Given that he is the most powerful man in Kandahar Province, where Canadian Forces are preparing for a massive military offensive described by the Times as the “fulcrum” of the entire war, the allegations about Wali Karzai should be on the front pages of newspapers across Canada.


Update: Hamid Karzai threatens to join the Taliban. (The article might have been headlined ‘Karzai threatens to rejoin the Taliban’, since as a tribal chief in Kandahar he was a Taliban supporter for a couple of years in the 1990s.)

Derrick O'Keefe

Derrick O'Keefe

Derrick O'Keefe is a writer in Vancouver, B.C. He served as rabble.ca's editor from 2012 to 2013 and from 2008 to 2009.