Afghanistan: Implications of the Karzai and Khan Assassinations

27 July 2011 FDI Team

Background

Two key powerbrokers assassinated within a week – that’s an impressive feat even by Afghanistan’s infamous history of assassinations. The separate killings of Ahmad Wali Karzai and Jan Mohammed Khan raise questions about the stability of the country as it seeks to assume responsibility for its own security.

Comment

The first question is, does Afghanistan’s inability to protect these two Karzai allies serve as an indication that the country is unable to look after its own security? Probably not. Afghanistan is unstable for a myriad of reasons, the insurgency being only one strand of the complex knot of insecurity. Assassinations are considered by some to be a legitimate way of shifting power balances. Moreover, in Afghanistan, murder is a culturally appropriate response to certain social transgressions, and therefore the deaths of even politically significant figures often have a personal dimension. Ahmed Wali Karzai and Jan Mohammed Khan both had plenty of personal enemies not connected to the insurgency.

So, why would the Taliban claim responsibility for the killings of AWK and JMK? (as Ahmed Wali Karzai and Jan Mohammed Khan are known to the acronym-loving coalition forces). It’s true that both men were considered key Western allies, the former in Kandahar and the latter in Uruzgan. But they were also less than salubrious figures, known for ruling virtual fiefdoms in their respective provinces. In many ways, their removal should come as a relief to the international coalition in Afghanistan. The Western alliance with them illustrated to many ordinary Afghans the West’s hypocrisy in publicly denouncing corrupt officials, while siding with them in practice. If the Taliban was indeed responsible, it may have done the Afghan Government and ISAF a favour.

Both AWK and JMK were known for corruption, shifting allegiances to suit their own agendas, and having links to drug trade networks. But who doesn’t in Afghanistan? It is impossible to avoid unsavoury relationships there because, oftentimes, individuals objectionable to Western sensibilities are those who wield the most influence locally and are therefore best able to effect change.

The trick may lie in knowing how to manage the relationship with a recalcitrant ally. Incentives for co-operation and allegiance must be tangible, specific to the individual, and continuous. Disincentives must be equally real, and threats followed through. Arguably, Ahmed Wali Karzai was getting out of hand – even his half-brother, the president of Afghanistan, reportedly had trouble keeping him in check. Jan Mohammed Khan wasn’t much better. Surely, the removal of two such problematic figures cannot destabilise the country any further.

 

Paula Hanasz

Future Directions International Associate

Indian Ocean Research Programme

 

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