A suicide bomber with explosives hidden in his turban killed several people gathered to mourn the death of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s younger brother at a Kandahar mosque on Thursday.
The man blew himself up at the service of Ahmed Wali Karzai who was killed in his home on Monday, allegedly at the hands of a trusted confidant loyal to the Taliban. Hekmatullah Hekmat, the head of the clerical council for the province, was among the four who were killed, Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry told the Associated Press. At least 15 were wounded, a spokesman for the governor said.
Wali Karzai was the most powerful and corrupt man in the volatile southern province of Kandahar. Formally the head of Kandahar’s provincial council, Karzai served as the region’s de facto ruler and leader of its extensive tribal networks, and controlled a web of legal and illegal businesses collectively worth billions of dollars. His death could leave a power vacuum in the south as U.S. troops begin to draw down in the country.
Within hours of burying his younger brother, Afghan president Hamid Karzai quickly nominated another brother to fill the position. At the funeral, Karzai asked tribal elders and officials to recognize Shah Wali Karzai (who is Ahmed Wali’s brother) as the appointed elder and leader of his tribe, the New York Times reports. “It was a moment to unite both the tribes and political support around him in the face of the continuing insurgency. But it was also a signal that the Karzais would be a continuing force in Kandahar, said some of those who attended,” the Times reported.
The appointment did not immediately appear to ease fears of a power vacuum in Kandahar, the Taliban's spiritual birthplace and a centerpiece of the U.S.-led coalition’s efforts to rout out militants in the 2009 surge. One Kandahar elder told the Times that Ahmed Wali was “very effective and strong—people were scared of him,” and noted that a loss of fear and influence could “herald the decline of the Karzais’ power in Kandahar.”
The violence in Afghanistan remains a key concern as U.S. troops begin to draw down and reposition within the country. The United Nations said Thursday that civilian casualties in the first half of this year were higher than those of the same period in 2010. The organization has said 2010 was the deadliest year of civilian casualties in nearly decade of war in the country.
Insurgents, mostly deploying improvised explosive devices, were responsible for 80 percent of the civilian deaths during this period, according to the report. The Afghan government and international forces were responsible for 14 percent of civilian deaths, with airstrikes remaining the deadliest cause of Afghan civilian deaths by coalition forces.