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Afghan president at kingpin brother's funeral

13 july 2011, 16:25
Afghan President Hamid Karzai was Wednesday to lead mourners at the funeral of his half-brother, gunned down a day earlier by his own head of security in the southern city of Kandahar, AFP reports.

Ahmed Wali Karzai, dogged for years by allegations of links to the country's lucrative opium trade and private security firms, and reportedly on the payroll of the CIA, was the government's key powerbroker in the south.

Known by his initials "AWK", Karzai's brother's death deprives NATO of a key if controversial ally in Kandahar, the spiritual birthplace and heartland of the Taliban, as international troops begin to withdraw from Afghanistan.

The funeral was to be held at the city's Mandigak Palace, a government guesthouse, before Karzai's body was to be taken by car to Karz village, a 30-minute drive away, for burial in his family's graveyard.

Security -- already tight in the violent province -- was stepped up for the morning funeral prayers as speculation mounted about the motive behind the shooting of the younger Karzai, who was 49, in his own home.

Afghan army and police covered roads around the city, with the main thoroughfares closed to traffic and largely free of pedestrians.

The funeral was to be held in the early morning as temperatures can soar to above 50 degrees celsius (122F) in the midday Kandahar sun. The ceremony had been due to start at 7:00am (0230GMT) but by that time had not yet begun.

The venue where Karzai's body was held had been taken over by President Karzai's own personal security force, as well as Afghan and US troops who guarded the area with light and heavy weapons, an AFP reporter said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned the Afghan president to offer her condolences and said Washington remained "committed to supporting the government and people of Afghanistan in their struggle for peace".

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing, but the region's police chief and other officials said AWK was shot dead by the long-serving chief of his family's personal protection force.

Kandahar police chief Abdul Razeq identified the assassin as Sardar Mohammed, commander of 200 bodyguards who provided security for the younger Karzai's family in the flashpoint city for seven years.

However, speculation raged over the killing.

"An investigation is under way to determine if it was a personal hostility or there were some foreign hands behind it," Kandahar governor Tooryalai Wesa told reporters.

"He was a very trusted person. He (AWK) knew him for years. No one could even think he would do such a thing."

The country's interior and defence ministers and other top officials were expected to attend the funeral alongside the president.

Analysts and security experts said there was no shortage of possible candidates wishing to get rid of the Afghan leader's half-brother, but one Western security official said it was unlikely to have been a Taliban hit.

"Wali Karzai was the real leader of the city (Kandahar), in fact he ruled a fiefdom and his involvement in drug trafficking is proven. I doubt the involvement of the Taliban in his murder," said the Western official.

The killing raises disturbing questions about possible infiltration among those closest to the Karzai family and is also a severe blow to NATO and the Afghan leadership in Kandahar, where the insurgency is at its worst.

The incident comes as coalition troops start reducing their numbers, handing over to Afghan forces as the leaders of Western states search for a political solution, including talks with the Taliban, after a decade of war.

Kandahar is a make-or-break battleground in the US-led fight to defeat the insurgency, where Washington has poured in thousands of extra troops to wrest the initiative from the Taliban and bolster the Afghan government.

The top US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, who steps down next week before becoming head of the CIA, condemned Tuesday's killing and pledged the support of NATO's force in bringing those responsible to justice.

The southern city is seen as the epicentre of militant activity.

In April, Kandahar's provincial police chief was killed in a suicide bombing by one of his own bodyguards, who was believed to have known him for 10 years.

The governor of the restive province told AFP last month that insurgents in the area had recently changed tactics, using assassinations to sow fear.

By Mamoon Durrani

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