The fifth of the impressive Afghanistan Reports from the Institute for the Study of War, released today, argues that the influence of the President Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, over the city of Kandahar, "is the central obstacle to any of ISAF’s governance objectives, and a consistent policy for dealing with him must be a central element of any new strategy".
Like two previous reports in this series, Politics and Power in Kandahar is written by Carl Forsberg, who argues that a strong, personality-driven political order is emerging in Afghanistan that undermines ISAF's goals.
Strong factors in this new political order include the declining influence of the tribes and the rise of the Karzai family. Control over guns, money and foreign support have now become important sources of power.
Forsberg says that Ahmed Wali Karzai and several of his close relatives are at the centre of a number of commercial and military networks that give him considerable influence over business life in Kandahar. His control over firms like Watan Risk Management and Asia Security Group allow him to enforce his political will and to give himself shadow ownership of the government of Kandahar.
Former Kandahar governor Gul Agha Sherzai runs a rival commercial network to Karzai and this is the main reason, says Forsberg, that he was removed from power in the city and transferred to Nangahar province by President Karzai in 2005.
All of this has consequences for ISAF because the local population sees the provincial goverment as "an exclusive oligarchy devoted to its own enrichment and closely tied to the international coalition". The Taliban are able to exploit this sentiment, with many local powerbrokers who are excluded from Ahmed Wali Karzai's circle only too willing to back the insurgency.
The problems in Kandahar are well known and there have been several attempts to remove Karzai from city, but these have been blocked by the President - causing deep frustration in Washington and London. As Forsberg notes: "In 2007 US Ambassador Ronald Neumann suggested to no avail that the president give his brother an ambassadorial post abroad in response to renewed allegations of Ahmed Wali’s involvement in the drug trade. This was repeated in November 2009, when Ambassador Eikenberry reportedly demanded that President Karzai remove Ahmed Wali Karzai from Kandahar, and again in the spring of 2010, only for the president to continue to refuse his brother’s removal. In a press interview in December 2009, President Karzai noted that it would be an abuse of his powers and a violation of the constitution for him to remove Ahmed Wali Karzai from his position as elected head of the Kandahar provincial council."
Whether or not Karzai junior is removed from Kandahar, Forsberg says ISAF can mitigate some of the worst effects of his presence by such measures as disarming private militias, reforming the way it lets contracts and doing more to build a professional administration in the province. None of these, sadly, will be easy.