Afghanistan Without Ahmed Wali Karzai

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Guest

Ahmed Rashid, author of Descent Into Chaos

Ahmed Wali Karzai, the younger half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was assassinated on Tuesday. Karzai was known for making deals with many of Afghanistan's tribes, militias, and insurgent groups. He was also alleged to be a corrupt enforcer, a drug smuggler and a CIA asset.

NEAL CONAN, host: Yesterday, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the younger half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was assassinated in his home in Kandahar. The controversial powerbroker was probably best known as a notorious symbol of corruption and double-dealing, alleged to have a hand in every business deal across four provinces, including drugs and a CIA asset. In an op-ed in The New York Times, Ahmed Rashid writes that senior American and NATO officers in Afghanistan wanted Karzai gone for many years but without him, quote, "Afghanistan just got more dangerous and unpredictable."

If you have questions about Ahmed Wali Karzai and the future of Afghanistan after his death, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Ahmed Rashid's most recent book is "Descent into Chaos." He joins us by phone from Lahore in Pakistan. Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

AHMED RASHID: Thank you.

CONAN: And if - we'll get to Ahmed Wali Karzai in just a moment, but I have to ask you earlier today, a series of coordinated bomb attacks in India. Seventeen people reported dead, and there is at least very strong suspicion that this is a terrorist attack, and suspicion that it's been directed from Pakistan.

RASHID: Well, exactly. And I think everyone in Pakistan tonight is extremely worried and concerned because we know what happened when a Pakistani terrorist group carried out the last bombing in Mumbai in 2008, India and Pakistan nearly went to war. And the big danger is that there could be a ratcheting up of tensions. The last few months, both countries have been having talks with each other for the first time, and there's been an easing off of the tensions, and the talks have been very productive.

And now with these bomb blasts, it seems the big danger is that the talks could come to a standstill. There would be a series of accusations and counteraccusations. And then, you know, there could be a ratcheting up on the border. So there's a lot of fear right now as to what, you know, how these bomb blasts are going to affect the regional situation and, of course, the international situation because Pakistan already faces a very dire situation with the Americans, a very tense standoff with the Americans. It can't really afford to have another standoff with the Indians now.

CONAN: Could you bring us up to date? India has always claimed those who designed and coordinated the attacks on Mumbai in 2008 were in Pakistan and wants them extradited. Have any of them been turned over?

RASHID: No, none of them have been turned over. Pakistan said that it would put those members who were caught here on trial, those culprits of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba; they would be put on trial here, but that trial has been delayed indefinitely. There hasn't been much progress, and that, of course, led to the Indians refusing to open a dialogue with Pakistan for nearly three years. But finally, the Indians have sort of put the trial and put the last Mumbai attacks to one side and opened this dialogue which has been going very well.

In fact, in two weeks' time, the foreign ministers of both countries are supposed to meet with each other in the first such meeting since Mumbai, the first Mumbai. Now, we could well see that meeting being postponed.

CONAN: All right, Ahmed Rashid, let's move from Pakistan's eastern border to its border on the north and west with Afghanistan and the piece you wrote in The New York Times op-ed page today about Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half-brother of the president of Afghanistan, and known as a notorious figure in the West. You seemed to write that even if he was a notorious figure, he was a rascal you really liked.

RASHID: Well, you know, I mean, the problem of dealing with Afghanistan is that everybody is notorious. Everybody is a rascal. And if you condemn everyone as rascal and notorious then you have nobody to deal with. So, you know, that - and certainly, that is the problem with Abdul Wali.

The point was that he, you know, he was a very powerful figure. He got tribal support for his brother, the president. He backed the Americans in their efforts to haunt down the Taliban. He helped the CIA. He - and he also was talking to the Taliban clandestinely to try and get them into serious peace talks with the government and with the Americans. So he was involved in a huge amount of politics, in military affairs and really kind of kept the southern provinces, which are, of course, the main battlefield against the Taliban, and are both the heartland of the Taliban and the heartland for the Karzai family - he was keeping this house together. And I fear very much that there's going to be a vacuum now, that you're not going to have such a strong figure there.

And don't forget, this is a critical time when President Obama has ordered withdrawal of some 30,000 troops this year and next. And there will be a general transition to - from American forces to Afghan forces. Now, for this to happen, you need some kind of peace and stability and political acceptability in this area which is still very hotly contested by the Taliban. And with Ahmed Wali Karzai now gone, I don't see any immediate player, even another one of Karzai's brothers, or another tribal chief or warlord who could really hold the south together.

CONAN: The Taliban has claimed credit for the assassination. Do we know who carried it out and why?

RASHID: Well, we know who carried out, but we don't know the motive. You know, the Taliban tend to claim everything, so I would discount that. My own sense is and, I think, a lot of the people feel this, that it was probably a personal vendetta that this individual had with Ahmed Wali. It could have been a business deal gone wrong. It could have been a question of honor. It could have been a fight over money or a woman or anything. But it seems to have been more of a personal killing rather than a plot by the Taliban or by anyone else.

CONAN: You paint a picture of Ahmed Wali Karzai as the organizational force, the logistical expert behind his brother's rise to power.

RASHID: Well, you know, I mean, the - Hamid Karzai has six - there are six brothers. And quite frankly, most of them are very impractical sort of people, extremely charming and wonderful company but not very practical. Ahmed Wali was an extremely practical person, who, you know, understood how things are done and organized things to be done.

And I remember very well when in - back in 2001, when Hamid Karzai decided to go into Afghanistan, he had no money, he had no guns, he had absolutely nothing. And Ahmed Wali organized everything literally overnight so - you know, and gave his brother a whole heap of money so he could take into Afghanistan to bribe people and to buy food and other necessities. He was always a very practical person. And, of course, this served him very well in his role in Kandahar.

That, of course, you know, he was notorious for being involved in drugs and business deals and corruption and all the rest of it, but he was also practical in the sense he could give the American Marines, you know, good, practical advice. He could talk to Petraeus about what should be done and not be done in the south. You know, he had dealings with the CIA. And these were all very practical, you know, practical efforts which were all an attempt to try and bring peace to the south.

CONAN: We're talking with Ahmed Rashid, his new piece is "The Afghanistan Enforcer I Knew," that's in The New York Times, July 13th. And let's see if we get some callers on the line, 800-989-8255. We'll start with Billie(ph), and Billie with us from Palmer in Alaska.

BILLIE (Caller): Hi. I was curious, my husband is in Kandahar right now and he actually bought both books in a market in Kandahar. And I'm currently reading "Descent Into Chaos." He has read both of them. He's part of the reconstruction with the Army Corps of Engineers. And I mean, I was shocked yesterday when I heard about the assassination just because I know the importance of Karzai. And is there anything positive that can come out of this?

RASHID: Well, I just hope that, you know, that there won't be a fragmentation and there won't be squabbling, you know, between the various power centers in the south - the tribal chief, the warlords, the businessmen, the drug dealers even - that there won't be a power struggle now to fill the gap of Ahmed Wali Karzai because, of course, that would be lethal, you know, and it would really complicate things for the American forces there, for the people doing reconstruction, for the troops who are going to withdraw. It would make things very, very difficult.

I hope that some kind of transition - that the president can have some kind of peace - peaceful meeting there between all the stakeholders and get them to agree as to how and who, you know, will now govern the south.

CONAN: Billie, do you know when your husband is scheduled to come home?

BILLIE: In December - next December, he'll have been there a year.

CONAN: That's still a long ways away.

BILLIE: Yeah, so...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: I suspect you'll get a chance to finish Ahmed Rashid's book before then.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BILLIE: Yeah. Well, I'm going to...

RASHID: Thank you very much for reading my book.

BILLIE: (unintelligible) off the line (unintelligible). The Canadian professor, while he was from Afghanistan and taught in Canada, I heard his name yesterday, can you say anything to that? He's now in Kandahar.

RASHID: I'm sorry. I couldn't catch that.

BILLIE: There's a man, I heard his name yesterday but I can't remember it. He was a professor in Canada but he was, like, the secondhand man to Karzai. Is there any good things about him to say?

RASHID: I don't know him personally, no. I really can't say. But I think what is probably likely to happen in the south is that he will install one of his brothers but that brother would not necessary be the powerbroker. And he will probably surround the brother with various local powerbrokers, and they will attempt to do - have a more collective effort at leadership perhaps rather than a one-man show.

CONAN: And, Billie, I'm not sure you were able to hear, but Ahmed Rashid thanked you very much for reading his book.

BILLIE: Thank you so much.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Billie. We're talking with Ahmed Rashid. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Robert is on the line, calling from Boise.

ROBERT (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Hi. You're on the air, Robert. Go ahead.

ROBERT: Hi. Yeah. I wanted to know, being that us backing Karzai, whether it be his brother or Hamid, is that just adding more credibility to the opposition, whether it be the Taliban or other tribal factions, and that is dealing with these corrupt individuals the only route to go because it seems like that's always giving credibility to the other side, that they're less corrupt.

CONAN: Ahmed Rashid, a lot of scathing news about President Karzai published in WikiLeaks, questions about whether he was on his meds or not from our outgoing American ambassador there. Should the United States be involved in supporting either of the Karzais?

RASHID: Well, I think, understood there's actually a lot of justification for that. And certainly, you know, on many fronts, President Karzai has been a failure. We had a rigged election, a parliamentary election that's now, in fact, a parliamentary crisis that has been going on for the last nine months. Of course, there's stories of corruption and a lack of good governance and, you know, all these issues which he was responsible for mostly, rather than the Americans. And he's not lived up to a lot of these expectations.

You know, I've known him for a long time and, you know, I mean, this is not the way he started out. He started out as a very genuine patriot who wanted to get these things done and had a vision for his country, and somewhere along the way, you know, things started going wrong. I really can't place it.

But I think, you know, there's been a lot of frustration by the international community with the Karzais, with the family as a whole. You know, one brother has become a very rich businessman and has probably been responsible for sinking one of the major banks in Afghanistan.

But, you know, at the same time, it must be said that there is another side to the story and that is that - you know, is something I write about quite extensively - that what the Karzais and what Afghans expected after 9/11 and after the war ended in 2001 was a degree of nation building and commitment and troops and money and reconstruction from the Bush administration, and they didn't get it. And President Bush went off to Iraq to fight the war there, and basically forgot about Afghanistan for the next five or six years.

CONAN: Robert...

RASHID: And that's something that, you know, they can't forget.

CONAN: Robert, thanks very much. Let's see if we get one more caller in, and this is Francis(ph), Francis with us from Raleigh.

FRANCIS (Caller): Yes. Good afternoon. I guess I've, you know, I've heard so much about this fellow being involved in the opium trade. As long as we've been over there and as long as Karzai has been in charge, if this was true, why was it allowed to go on so long? And if we have turned a blind eye to this, what else have we turned a blind eye to with regard to corruption? And let me say one other thing, that we've had - this is - I don't want to sound holier than thou. I mean, our own state of North Carolina - our former governor and, you know, he's a convicted felon. We had the Ag commissioner, she went off to jail.

CONAN: And, Francis, whatever it is, it's going to have to be quick.

FRANCIS: Yeah.

RASHID: Well, very briefly, I think, you know, the point about - I think there are a lot of things the Americans have to turn a blind eye to over the years, because they were involved in fighting a war against the Taliban and al-Qaida. And there have to be priorities set.

FRANCIS: Yes.

RASHID: And at some stage, you know, corruption and lack of good governance, and drugs, you know, should have been major issues. Perhaps at the beginning, in 2002, 2003, they weren't made major issues. And, in fact, Afghanistan was neglected at that time. Then the war started and I think, you know, once that happened, the war and the fighting, that took priority to everything else.

CONAN: Francis, thanks very much for the call. And, Ahmed Rashid, thank you for staying up to speak with us tonight. We appreciate it.

RASHID: Thank you.

CONAN: Ahmed Rashid's op-ed "The Afghan Enforcer I Knew" ran today in The New York Times. There's a link to it on our website. Go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. Ahmed Rashid, the author recently of "Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia," with us by phone from Lahore in Pakistan.

Tomorrow, Don Tapscott has been studying the net generation for more than 15 years. It's time, he says, for professors to adjust to a digital world and teach them differently. He joins us tomorrow in this hour. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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