openSecurity

Power dynamics in Afghanistan shift after a series of assassinations

Hamid Karzai’s political influence in southern Afghanistan diminishes as his brother Ahmed Wali Karzai and adviser Jan Mohammed Khan are assassinated. Mumbai responds to bombings with promise of security overhaul. Libyan rebels and government forces engage in fierce clashes. UN gives aid to Islamist run camps in Somalia.
Humayun Saleem
20 July 2011

Political space seems to have opened up in Kandahar province, as two key individuals, Ahmed Wali Karzai and Jan Mohammed Khan, are assassinated. Wali Karzai was President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother, and possibly the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan. His death leaves a power vacuum in the province, a key contested area of Afghanistan, diminishing his brother’s power in the area and creates a dilemma for Isaf forces that relied on Wali Karzai as a key power broker. Jan Mohammed Khan, a tribal elder, and a key advisor to President Karzai, was also assassinated by two gunmen in Kabul. Khan helped extend Karzai’s influence in Uruzgan, through his nephew, Maittullah Khan.

Khan was allegedly killed by the Taliban who held him responsible for aiding the coalition forces in carrying out successful night raids against them. With General Petraeus handing over the command in Afghanistan to Marine Corps General John Allen, and ISAF handing over control of Bamiyan province to Afghan forces, the week’s events mark the start of a gradual transitional process which is intended to be completed by 2014.

The openSecurity verdict: There are currently clear indications that the Taliban, even with an apparently diminished strength, are able to adapt tactics and attack key individuals and assets in Afghanistan. Ahmed Wali was President Karzai’s and Isaf’s key strongman in southern Afghanistan. His brother, Shah Wali Karzai, was promptly chosen by President Karzai to avoid a power struggle in Kandahar.

However, Shah Wali Karzai is a relatively unknown businessman, and may struggle to exercise as much control over Kandahar as his assassinated brother Ahmed Wali Karzai. If Kandahar is not adequately controlled, the dangerous power vacuum could cause a fight for political and economic power in the province, and this has the danger of distracting the government from the ongoing battle against the Taliban, who will be equally determined to increase their hold of the province that proved their launchpad to victory in the Afghan civil war of the 1990s.
Kabul’s regional allies are already alienated by the continued deterioration of the security situation, while the psychological impact of the death of someone as significant as Ahmed Karzai or Jan Mohammed Khan could leave many fearing their own future, regardless of government promises of protection.

Furthermore, Afghan investigations into the deaths of Ahmed Wali Karzai and Jan Mohammed Khan allege that assassins in both the incidents had some sort of a connection with Taliban leaders in Pakistan. They claim that Sardar Mohammed, the police commander charged with the murder of Ahmed Karzai, held a meeting with Taliban officials in Quetta, Pakistan. In Jan Mohammed’s case, interior minister, Besmullah Mohammadi claimed during a parliamentary session that the gunmen had made two calls to Pakistan, one before the day of the murder, and one on the day. These developments follow tense relations between the two countries; most recently, an Afghan mortar shell killed four Pakistani soldiers in South Waziristan.

None of which is good news for Isaf’s prospects of a graceful withdrawal from Afghanistan. Regional entanglement coupled with continued attacks on key government individuals in Afghanistan could significantly threaten any security gains made in the country. With the scheduled troop pullout gearing up, a fragile Afghanistan could erupt again into violence. It seems that the Isaf forces are beginning to leave the country’s security forces at a stage of infancy. Even though they do not pull out till 2014, it may take longer than the next three years to untangle the increasingly complex security situation both in Afghanistan and the wider region.

Three bomb blasts strike the heart of India’s commercial capital, Mumbai

Three areas in Mumbai, Opera House district, Zaveri bazaar and Dadar area, were targeted in a coordinated terror attack, which left at least eighteen people dead and over 130 injured. The blasts occurred during rush hour between 18:50 and 19:00, when commuters and office workers were making their way home. Both President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani of Pakistan were quick to condemn the blasts, in light of the threat they pose to recently re-started peace talks with Delhi. Indian authorities also refrained from accusing Pakistan. The reason behind this is that similar low intensity attacks have been carried out by home grown terrorists in the past. It is unlikely that the meetings between the foreign ministers of two nations will be affected. In consequence, the state government has decided to implement a security system based on London’s ‘ring of steel’, which aims to enhance security cover for the key financial hub, but has been criticised for its invasion of privacy and curtailment of liberties.

Intense fighting between the Libyan rebel and government forces continues in oil port Brega

Libyan government forces and rebels continued to engage in intense clashes in the eastern oil port of Brega. Conflicting reports have come from both the sides, whereby the rebels claim that they have encircled the town and even control parts of it. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s spokesperson, Mussa Ibrahim, denied that Brega had indeed fallen in to the hands of rebel forces. It is likely that both sides control certain areas of the city, although claim to have more. For instance, Libyan revels have dug themselves into the south and east of Brega, and control the eastern residential sector. Gaddafi’s forces on the other hand are likely to have retreated to the west, and are also low on fuel and supplies. However, as government forces retreat, they have set land mines to make it harder for Brega to be captured. Additionally, they have also been setting fire to ditches so that Nato aircraft find it harder to attack Gaddafi’s forces due to excessive smoke. For now, it seems that access to much of Libya’s eastern oil network will not easily fall under full control of the rebel forces.

The United Nations provides aid to camps run by Islamist group al-Shabab

Mark Bowden, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, has made it clear that aid is being provided to the country through al-Shabab’s drought committees. This development has come based on data from the food security and nutrition analysis unit in Somalia. The UN has sought security guarantees and access from armed rebels in Somalia, so that aid can be delivered efficiently. Al-Shabab also has an interest in allowing the aid to pass through its network, as the group will want to avoid any future unrest among locals, after losing control of significant territories after government and rival militia offences this Spring. The al-Qaeda-linked organization is also likely to gain from trucking food and water around Somalia; this will act as a ‘major propaganda coup’ for al-Shabab, and enable them to exert greater authority in the country. Moreover, it is also expected that al-Shabab is likely to gain from bribes made for security guarantees. The UN is operating on humanitarian principles in carrying out the aid operation, but regional security concerns and those of the US, which lists Al-Shabab as a terrorist organization and fears the country could act as an international haven for terroists, with regional and global targets, are likely to increase if aid is manipulated by the group to expand their control.

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