Killing of Karzai's Half-Brother Likely Won't Change U.S. Policy

Though it serves as a reminder of the challenges, it won't change Obama's timetable.


Hours after the assassination Tuesday morning of Ahmed Wali Karzai, half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the motivations of his killer, Sardar Mohammed, remain unclear. But whether or not the Taliban had a hand in the death as they claim, the incident again brings to the surface the complicated divisions among the country's ruling elite, as well as the violence that threatens the Afghan people nationwide.

President Karzai, in a press conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, confirmed that his brother was killed in his own home. He expressed hope that such incidents will someday end for all Afghan families. "This is the life of all Afghan people," Karzai said. [See our roundup of political cartoons on Afghanistan.]

The tens of thousands of U.S. troops that remain in Afghanistan had little power to stop the inside job that felled Ahmed Karzai. For Americans, the assassination serves as a stark reminder that the fate and future of Afghanistan rely more on what happens within its own borders than on the policies fought over in Washington.

Though the Taliban claimed it as their own victory, reports indicate that the murder came, at least in part, from within the upper echelons of the nation's power structure. Mohammed, who was also reportedly killed by bodyguards shortly after he shot Karzai, was believed to be close to the president's brother, who was a political heavyweight and alleged narcotics kingpin in the country's southern region of Kandahar. It's possible that the Taliban pressured him to commit the murder, but it's also likely that his motivations came from elsewhere or were personal. [See photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.]

"The killer was clearly a close associate—the fact that he was able to get in with a weapon suggests that he was trusted," says Stephen Walt, foreign affairs professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and contributor to Foreign Policy magazine. "It just reminds us how many different fissures and splits and rivalries there exist, even among the non-Taliban Afghanis."

Karzai's death probably won't convince Washington to change course, says North Carolina Republican Rep. Walter Jones, but it does help expose the internal corruption among the country's leadership. "If anything it shows that Afghanistan is never going to be controlled, no matter who it is," says Jones, an advocate for troop withdrawal. "History has proven that you're never going to change Afghanistan." [Read more about national security, terrorism and the military.]

The divisions within the Afghan government aren't news to most Americans, so for Obama to change his troop withdrawal timetable would take something much larger than this single incident, Walt says. However, the murder could influence how people in America view Afghanistan and could increase pressure for the United States to get out quicker. "Even the people who have advocated a longer American engagement there have understood that this might not work, because we were in effect trying to nail jelly to the wall. This just reinforces that basic sense," Walt says. "It also reminds us that it's not a case of good guys versus bad guys, loyal Afghans versus evil Taliban. It's rather a case of a whole series of different factions and clans and warlords and rivals including the Taliban."