By M K Bhadrakumar
The Taliban have issued a statement offering an explanation for the assassination in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar of Ahmad Wali Karzai, the younger half-brother of President Hamid Karzai.
[The reference to "Khorasan" (Greater Khorasan or Ancient Khorasan [Persian: خراسان کهن یا خراسان بزرگ] is a historical region spanning what are now most of Afghanistan, northeastern Iran, and the southern parts of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikstan) is taken from an article at the CIA-linked website Long War Journal, claiming that an “Al-Qaeda” leader made the linkage between Afghanistan and ancient Khorasan ....
This statement was released on Thursday - the same day a suicide bomber disrupted the memorial service in Kandahar for Ahmad Wali, killing three people, including Maulawi Ekmatullah, the head of the local ulema shura (provincial religious council).
Earlier, the burial of Ahmad Wali on Tuesday, attended by President Karzai, passed off without incident. But the Taliban targeted the memorial service, which was held for those who were had traveled from remote places and couldn't attend the funeral....
Direct references in the Taliban statement to the Afghan president were conspicuous in their absence. The focus was almost entirely on Ahmad Wali, since the Taliban wanted the Afghan elites to draw the necessary conclusions as to why the 49-year-old head of Kandahar's elected provincial council had to be eliminated.
The Taliban squarely and unambiguously blamed the assassination on the fact that Ahmad Wali worked for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Interestingly, the whole world is focusing on Ahmad Wali as an archetypal Afghan "warlord" and fascinating yarns are being churned out by the hour on the amorphous phenomenon of Afghan "warlordism"; but the Taliban zero in on the kernel of the truth. Nothing else about Ahmad Wali matters to them.
Indeed, the Taliban expose that Ahmad Wali was a "kingpin of the regime in south Afghanistan" in his capacity as the leader of the provincial council. He was the "most trusted person" of the US-led coalition forces occupying Afghanistan.
The Taliban point out that Ahmad Wali cooperated with the "Americans, Canadians and Britons" in the latters' campaign to gain control of the southwestern region of Afghanistan - not only Kandahar. (The governor of Helmand province, Gulab Mangal, was targeted in Maiwand district with an improvised explosive device as he was travelling to Kandahar on Tuesday to attend Ahmad Wali's funeral.)
Ahmad Wali obviously crossed the "red line" in helping US commander General David Petraeus' troop surge. The Taliban said he "played a key role in spreading the net of intelligence of the Western invaders and boosting their sway in southwest Afghanistan".
But the clincher was that this wasn't retribution for past sins. "Even now, he [Ahmad Wali] received a high salary from the CIA." This is as close as the Taliban get to suggesting that they apprehended that with Petraeus' elevation as the head of the CIA, Ahmad Wali would have an even greater potential to inflict damage on their interests. What emerges is that Ahmad Wali has paid with his life the political cost of the measure of success that Petraeus can claim for his "surge" policy in southwestern Afghanistan.
Quite obviously, by removing the "kingpin", the Taliban intend to nullify the gains of the "surge" and also pre-empt any further moves by Petraeus, who has gone on record that he would expect the locus of the military operations to now shift to the eastern region, where the US would rely more on intelligence and would count less on boots on the ground.
The Taliban statement squarely identifies Ahmad Wali with the excesses of the military operations in the southwestern region. It details the kind of atrocities that Western forces perpetrated, and then adds, "No doubt, in all these crimes, Ahmad Wali Karzai was complicit as the first person responsible for the [Kandahar] province ... Now, he has received his punishment."
Interestingly, although President Karzai invariably insists that the buck stops with him as regards the US's war crimes, the Taliban say otherwise. Their statement then steps back and begins to reflect on the political message for the Afghan elites - "Those Afghans who cooperate with the invading forces in contravention of their religion, country and native [traditional] values should take a lesson ... They should reconsider their behavior and actions." For, the Afghan nation cannot "tolerate" their cooperation with the foreign occupation forces or their acquiescence to the occupation itself.
The statement gives a chilling warning to those who collaborate, warning them that they cannot hope to take refuge in high-security zones under Western military protection - behind "barbed wires, cemented walls, sand bags" - as the long arm of the Taliban can reach everywhere.
The Taliban, however, say they are prepared to show latitude to those who may have collaborated with the US up until now - provided they "rethink, and abandon their subservience to the non-believing invaders". That is to say, "influential, educated and experienced Afghans" still have a choice even if they don't want to join the ranks of the Taliban or work with the Taliban insofar as they can "at least leave the path of support of the non-believers and start an ordinary life".
On the contrary, if they persist with their "submissive work", then, "you'll meet the same fate like General Daoud and Ahmad Wali Karzai". (The police chief for northern Afghanistan and the commander of the 303 Pamir Corps, Mohammed Daud, was killed by a suicide bomber in Takhar on May 29.)
The underlying thought process in the Taliban statement needs to be noted. This is an outright political statement and not a dogmatic al-Qaeda-like "jihadi" diatribe against the "decadent" West. Its focus is unmistakably on the Taliban's resolve not to compromise under any circumstances on the central question of the Western military presence on Afghan soil.
In sum, Ahmad Wali has been killed for being the CIA's point person in Afghanistan. Equally, the comparison with Daud is striking. Daud was a prominent "Panjshiri" who worked closely with North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in the northern region. He was also a kingpin, so to speak, for the German forces stationed in the Amu Darya region.
Conceivably, the Taliban underline by this comparison that the killing of Daud had nothing to do with him being a key non-Pashtun figure connected with the late Ahmad Shah Massoud or the erstwhile Northern Alliance's anti-Taliban resistance in the late 1990s.
There is also an implicit warning here for President Karzai and his team that it would be a fatal mistake if they succumbed to US pressure to allow the establishment of permanent military bases in Afghanistan on the pattern of what Washington is attempting to do in Iraq.
The Taliban statement makes it clear that the Quetta shura (the Taliban's high council) could have overlooked just about any aberration in Ahmad Wali's political profile - such as his strong-arm methods as a "warlord" or even his alleged involvement in drug trafficking or embezzlement of funds from the central bank - but what they could not afford to tolerate was that he continued to be the CIA's collaborator.
No doubt, Ahmad Wali's killing constitutes a devastating challenge to Petraeus personally. It comes on the eve of his departure from the war zone and it virtually unscrambles the omelette that the plucky US commander made at the fag-end of his military career. The "surge" has now become all but just another inconsequential page in the history of the Afghan war rather than the turning point it was meant to be.
More importantly, as the head of the CIA, Petraeus now has to confront the challenge of working in the southern Afghanistan region in an "intelligence vacuum". Ahmad Wali was a hands-on operative who didn't leave behind a replacement so to speak. He is irreplaceable, in fact. He had a finger in every pie cooking in the Kandahar region, ranging from providing security for the coalition forces to the US's nascent contacts with the Taliban.
All in all, the most striking aspect of the Taliban statement is that it deftly sidesteps President Karzai. He is not bracketed with Ahmad Wali's "crimes".
The fact that the Taliban made no attempt to disrupt the funeral on Tuesday is significant. The Taliban waited for full two days after the funeral was over to come out with the statement. After all, they took the life of a chief of the Popolzai tribe.