By Dan De Luce
WASHINGTON – NATO commanders expect the controversial brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to “stand out of the way” and play a less important role in Kandahar province, a top general said Wednesday.
Ahmad Wali Karzai
The NATO-led mission’s strategy in the pivotal Kandahar region aims to have Ahmed Wali Karzai, widely accused of corruption, gradually cede power to the governor of the province, Tooryalai Wesa, said British Major General Nick Carter.
“I think he will increasingly stand out of the way and allow the governor to do that governing. That is the strategy that we’re encouraging,” Carter told reporters by video link from Kandahar.
“And the early indications are that he is creating the space for the governor to fill,” Carter said.
The Afghan president’s younger half-brother, who serves as chairman of the provincial legislative council, is seen as a powerful figure in the Kandahar region and has been dogged by allegations he has links to the lucrative opium trade and private security firms.
He denies the charges but Western officials and analysts view him as a potential obstacle to winning the trust of local Afghans in Kandahar, amid a major operation by US and Afghan forces to break the Taliban’s influence in its spiritual heartland.
Carter, who leads the southern regional command for the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, sidestepped allegations swirling around the Afghan president’s brother but alluded to his tainted reputation.
“He would tell you — and he’s either a candidate for an Oscar, or he’s the most maligned man in Afghanistan — that he is trying to help his country, that he’s trying to help us and he’s trying to help his people,” Carter said.
Ahmed Wali Karzai also maintains that he would rather be watching his favorite English football club Chelsea than help rule Kandahar, he said.
“Now whether you believe it not, the key to this is if you make it clear to him, that it’s the governor that’s going to govern.”
The general said he expected the role of the governor of the province to gradually expand while Karzai and other members of the provincial council would play more of an advisory role.
“That is what is currently underway. And we will very much judge success by the extent to which that balance switches,” he said.
Kandahar is a make-or-break battleground in US-led efforts to defeat the Taliban insurgency after more than eight years of war, with foreign troops focusing their attention on the city and province of the same name.
While the Taliban does not control Kandahar city, it dominates some rural areas to the south and NATO and Afghan forces face a “military challenge” in clearing out the insurgents from those districts, he said.
In Kandahar city, with a population of about 500,000, Afghans face chaotic conditions marked by crime, a shortage of electricity and the absence of a reliable local government or police force, he said.
In Kandahar, “it’s a problem more of criminality and disorder than it is a problem of Taliban and insurgency,” he said.
Carter said he hoped that military and political efforts underway would show results by the fall, with Afghans in Kandahar enjoying improved security and services from their local government.
In the neighboring province of Helmand, a coalition offensive around the district of Marjah in February had freed up travel on main roads once controlled by the Taliban, allowed eight of 15 schools to reopen and launched a new local government, the general said.
But reviving government services and winning the trust of local residents was a slow, “frustrating” process, with the Taliban still exerting “subtle” intimidation to discourage Afghans from siding with the new authorities, Carter added.
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