Ahmed Wali Karzai, the controversial king of Kandahar and younger half-brother of the Afghan president, was shot dead by one of his bodyguards on Tuesday.
The assassination sent shock waves through the country, throwing into doubt the already brittle stability of Kandahar province where the Taliban have murdered dozens of police officers and government officials over the last two years.
The Taliban immediately claimed responsibility. A spokesman said the bodyguard had been groomed by the Taliban for some time and, on its orders, killed Mr. Karzai with a shot to the head inside his heavily fortified compound in Kandahar city.
President Hamid Karzai was meeting with visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy when news of the shooting broke.
"He was in tears, he was weeping," said Khaled Pashtoon, a member of parliament from Kandahar and close ally of the Karzais. "Ahmed Wali was the closest person to the president."
Mr. Pashtoon, in an interview with The Globe and Mail, said only last month he and other notables from Kandahar had pleaded with the President to name his younger brother as governor of the province.
"He was controlling Kandahar," he said. "He had the power but not the responsibility. But the president said, 'No, I love him too much. I would be worried. I don't want to put him in danger or confrontation with the people.'"
The younger Mr. Karzai was a lightning rod for criticism, accused at various times of profiting from the lucrative drug trade and taking cuts from contracts with the foreign forces based at the huge Kandahar airbase just outside Kandahar city.
He always denied those allegations but he was the acknowledged powerbroker in the city, seeing a stream of supplicants daily who went to him to solve their disputes over land, money and family.
"For me personally, he was not the worse of the evils that Kandahar had," said Rangina Hamidi, the daughter of the mayor of Kandahar and a prominent women's activist. "I'm not saying he was perfect, but he was a decision-maker. He made a decision, right on the spot, and made people happy or angry."
Mr. Karzai is far from the first prominent political figure to be targeted by the Taliban, which in just the last few months have sent suicide bombers to murder the Kandahar provincial police chief and kidnapped the son of the director of the main prison in the city.
The murder brought a stream of anger from other Afghans who work for the government.
"The Taliban have no aim, no target, no goal," said Abdul Basir Salangi, the governor of Parwan province, who survived an assassination attempt last month.
"They are the servants of a few of Islamic madrassas that just use the name of Islam," he added, referring to the Pakistan religious schools along the border with Afghanistan that are widely seen as breeding grounds for fanaticism.
Mr. Karzai, a beefy balding man who bore little resemblance to his urbane older brother, headed the provincial council of Kandahar. Local tribal leaders and district leaders chose him for that.
But it was mere window dressing. He was the undisputed go-to man of the province on any business deal or argument. It made him a parallel, and more important, centre of power than most elected officials and even the presidentially-appointed provincial governor.
His influence, cemented by his direct connection to the President, especially riled Canadian officials.
William Crosbie, the current ambassador in Kabul, was quoted in a leaked American diplomatic cable as saying that Mr. Karzai embodied presidential and tribal system of patronage and corruption that "makes my blood boil."
Asked if he had done any more than complain about Mr. Karzai's influence, Mr. Crosbie said in an interview last week that all he could do was point out to Afghan leaders where he saw that an "inappropriate choice" had been made.
"Generally, with respect to Ahmed Wali Karzai and this province, the reality is that you have to deal with the situation you have in Kandahar," Mr. Crosbie said. "It's a very complex province."
Mahmood Khan Alkozai, another parliamentarian from the province, said Mr. Karzai's killer was a distant relative of his boss and that their families come from adjoining villages in Dand district.
Mr. Alkozai said the bodyguard, who has been identified by the Taliban as Sardar Mohammed, was in Mr. Karzai's inner circle of most trusted bodyguards. "There will definitely be an impact on Kandahar from this killing," he added. "Ahmed Wali had a major role in terms of security, the economy and everything here."
The assassination underscored the growing fear of Taliban infiltration into the security forces and government agencies, and the danger that poses to foreigners and Afghans alike.
"How many of these kinds of people are inside the police, inside the army and maybe inside the presidential guard?" Obadullah Achekzai, a former parliamentarian.Report Typo/Error