Cablegate: Kandahar Politics Complicate U.S. Objectives in Afghanistan

Published: Sun 6 Dec 2009 09:09 AM
DE RUEHBUL #3890/01 3400953
O 060953Z DEC 09
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/30/2019
REF: A. KABUL 3748
B. KABUL 3595
Classified By: Coordinator Director for Development and Economic Affair
s E. Anthony Wayne, reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (C) Summary: As we step up engagement with GIRoA
leadership in Kandahar, it is important to understand the
dynamics of political power and how fundamental Kandahar is
to the fortunes of the Karzai regime. It is from Kandahar
that President Karzai's claim to national legitimacy
originates and from the province that the Karzai family's
position as a semi-modern aristocracy stems. As the kingpin
of Kandahar, the President's younger half-brother Ahmed Wali
Karzai (AWK) dominates access to economic resources,
patronage, and protection. Much of the real business of
running Kandahar takes place out of public sight, where AWK
operates, parallel to formal government structures, through a
network of political clans that use state institutions to
protect and enable licit and illicit enterprises. A dramatic
example is the Arghandab river valley, an agriculturally rich
and heavily-populated district strategically located at the
northern gate to Kandahar City, where the President's direct
intervention in the Alikozai tribal succession increased
Karzai political dominance over two of the most valuable
resources in Kandahar -- fertile land and water. The tribal
power structure in Kandahar seriously complicates our efforts
to bring formal justice and modern governance to the region.
In the absence of GIRoA initiatives to bring key individuals
closely linked to the Karzai regime to justice, RC South is
pursuing a bottom-up approach to the Arghandab shura. End
2. (C) As we step up engagement with GIRoA leadership in
Kandahar in pursuit of U.S. security, stabilization,
development and anti-corruption goals, it is important to
understand the dynamics of political power and how
fundamental Kandahar is to the fortunes of the Karzai regime
(Ref A). It is from Kandahar, not Kabul, that President
Karzai's claim to national legitimacy originates, and where,
through leadership of the royal Durrani Popalzai tribe, he
has a true political base. In Kandahar, political clans
consisting of personal, tribal, marriage and economic
alliances engage in balance of power competition and
cooperation. At the pinnacle of Kandahar's political clans,
the Karzai clan functions as a semi-modern aristocracy, with
the President ultimately presiding over the nation.
3. (C) As the kingpin of Kandahar, the President's younger
half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, rules over political deal
and decision-making at the provincial level and thereby
dominates access to economic resources, patronage and
protection. The overriding purpose that unifies his
political roles as Chairman of the Kandahar Provincial
Council and as the President's personal representative to the
South is the enrichment, extension and perpetuation of the
Karzai clan, and along with it their branch of the Popalzai
tribe. This applies equally to his entrepreneurial and his
alleged criminal activities. AWK derives authority and
legitimacy from his relationship to President Karzai, from
the relative discipline and elite position of the Popalzai
tribe and from his access to resources. In Kandahar's
political realm, he is an unrivaled strongman. For example,
the Kandahar Provincial Council, which is made up largely of
individuals who are personally beholden to him, wields
serious influence, despite its lack of statutory powers. It
is currently going about its business unhindered despite the
fraud charges that have prevented the IEC from certifying the
recent Provincial Council election results (Ref B). xxxxxxxxxxxx
4. (C) Much of the real business of running Kandahar takes
place out of public sight, where AWK operates parallel to
formal government structures through a network of political
clans that use state institutions to protect and enable licit
and illicit enterprises. At its core, this clan network has
a caste-like division of labor. The Popalzai occupy the
leadership pinnacle. The Barakzai, with Gul Agha
Sherzai as their leader, compete for power and business,
which includes, for example, contracting at Kandahar Air
Field and transport on Highway 4 from the Pakistan border at
Spin Boldak. The Noorzai occupy key positions in the ANSF
and are the traditional racketeers (with ties to narcotics
trafficking). The Achekzais along the border are the
traditional smugglers, and the Alikozai are the traditional
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5. (C) Among Karzai family-run businesses are alleged
control of trucking on Highway 1 (the Ring Road) through
Kandahar Province and beyond, private security contracting
and real estate. The last notably includes Ayno Mina, an
ostentatious Karzai property development for Afghan elites
east of Kandahar City, built on land obtained from the
government at rock bottom prices, with financing guaranteed
by OPIC. In a land of popular strongmen, AWK is widely
unpopular in Kandahar, because he rules exclusively rather
than inclusively; he is not perceived as caring about the
population at large but rather, as a traditional Pashtuns
Khan using his power to "feed his tribe."
6. (C) A good example of how the Karzais' power plays out in
Kandahar can be found in the Arghandab river valley, an
agriculturally rich and heavily populated district
strategically located at the northern gate to Kandahar City,
where the Alikozai tribe makes up 60 percent of the
population. They received the valley as a reward for
assisting the founder of Afghanistan, Ahmed Shah Durrani,
conquer Kandahar in the mid-1700s. As the guardians of
Kandahar, the Alikozais have prevented all invaders from
occupying Arghandab. The Soviets fought hard but never took
it and as a result were never secure in Kandahar City. The
Taliban's rise to power began in Kandahar, when the powerful
Alikozai leader Mullah Naquibullah decided to give them the
keys to the city, and he turned on them to assist their
overthrow in 2001. When Mullah Naqib died of a heart attack
in 2007, President Karzai took the unusual step of flying to
Kandahar, where he anointed Naquib's son Karimullah as the
new leader of the Alikozai. However, the move had
significant blowback. Mullah Naqib had never designated his
young and inexperienced son as his
successor, and Karzai's intervention generated resentment
among senior Alikozai elders. The resulting split weakened
tribal unity, a vulnerability the Taliban quickly exploited,
and it remains a present source of instability.
7. (C) The Arghandab story appears on the surface to be a
case of bungled tribal exploitation. On the contrary, by
intervening in the Alikozai succession, the Karzais linked
the most important tribal faction to control over the
provincial government in a line that runs from AWK to their
putative leader Karimullah, who in turn holds sway over the
District Administrator and local shura. The Karzais also
increased their influence over two of the most valuable
resources in Kandahar (which is largely desert) -- fertile
land and water. The Arghandab river valley, contains some of
the best agricultural land in Afghanistan; it famously
produces 80 percent of the country's pomegranates.
Production and land values there will increase greatly as a
result of Canada's "signature" rehabilitation of the Dahla
Dam and irrigation works, originally constructed by the U.S.
in the 1950s. Karzai businesses are also set to
acquire multiple patronage benefits from Dahla Dam
construction and security contracts, but the main prize will
be political control over long-term allocation of water
flows, including to Popalzai and Barakzai areas that lie well
downstream, via underground canals to the south.
8. (C) It is no accident that AWK lobbied the project's
Canadian sponsors on behalf of the Watan Group, the eventual
winner of the Dahla Dam security contract, whose CEO is his
cousin, U.S. national Rashid Popal. More than business is
involved; most of the project lies in Alikozai majority
areas, but the Popalzai will control security, and Alikozai
leader Karimullah was incensed over this treatment by his
Karzai sponsors when he found out. A follow-on to warlord
militias, private security companies today also serve
personal interests as camouflaged vehicles for protection
rackets in construction, transportation and drug smuggling.
AWK's determined but so far unsuccessful efforts to acquire
MOI-sanction to license all contractors and their weapons
through the Provincial Council has the potential to arm the
Karzai clan with a non-state entity that can insure against
whoever should come to power in Afghanistan.
9. (C) Comment: The traditional tribal power structures in
Kandahar have many implications for U.S. objectives in the
region. Initiatives that rely on GIRoA to take the lead in
bringing to justice major corrupt figures or negative
influences in Kandahar contain a serious dilemma: they would
include some of Karzai,s closest relatives and allies and
require the prosecution of people on whom we often rely for
assistance and/or support. Second, any efforts to bring
these individuals to justice could compromise the informal
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governing networks to which Kandaharis have become
accustomed, without necessarily replacing them with effective
GIRoA officials or improving the delivery of services. A
focus on bottom-up local solutions, such as identifying and
reaching out to the multiple factions in Arghandab as well as
the official shura, which RC South is pursuing, could offset
this problem to some degree. End Comment.
10. (U) This assessment, derived from multiple sources
including information provided by over a dozen
knowledgeable Afghans, presents a perspective that is widely
perceived among the Afghan public and consistent with
documentation in open sources and intelligence analyses.
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