Anand Gopal, one of the best reporters when it comes to untangling the throbbing mess called Afghan politics, particularly in the Pashtun south, has a must-read piece in Foreign Policy on the murder last Sunday of Jan Mohammed Khan, a warlord, former governor and powerful backer of Afghan President Hamid Karzai (whose most capable lieutenant in Kandahar, his brother Ahmad Wali Karzai, was murdered last week).
The former mujahideen commander against the Soviets was a controversial figure. His governorship of Uruzgan Province ended in 2006, when the Dutch troops in control of the area refused to work with him (he was persistently dodged by allegations of corruption and abuse of power). He was kicked back to Kabul with a symbolic title as a tribal affairs adviser to Karzai. "He was so hated, even when there was a drought we'd blame him," Gopal recalls an Uruzgani farmer telling him about Mr. Khan.
"In style, JMK and Ahmed Wali couldn't have been more different -- Jan Muhammad was an unpolished, old-guard mujahed, evoking images of the rough-and-tumble life of the Afghan frontier, while AWK was an English speaking, business-minded powerbroker. But both are products of the modern way of war, men of enormous power born of contracting dollars and access to U.S. officials. They leave behind lucrative political and financial networks, and what becomes of these networks will play a big role in determining the shape of things to come in southern Afghanistan. Who, then, is likely to take their place?
... Whatever the end result, southern Afghanistan's problems run deep. The international community -- and in particular the foreign forces -- have helped create a system where it's personalities that matter, not institutions. While much has been said about cleaning up the Afghan government, Afghans I speak to point out that the U.S. has repeatedly undermined the process from the very beginning. As the Afghan army and police were brought into formation, foreign forces funded an array of private militias that regularly acted outside the law (members of the Kandahar Strike Force, a militia Ahmed Wali contracted to the CIA, shot dead Kandahar's police chief in 2009, amongst other crimes)."