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Campbell Clark

Dead or alive, Ahmed Wali Karzai is not up for discussion in Ottawa Add to ...

Even after five years of bloody fighting in Kandahar, the Canadian government has almost nothing to say about the assassination of the province’s kingpin. They never could explain Ahmed Wali Karzai.

Canadian officials argued for years over how to handle a warlord they needed: whether to get closer; hold him off with a 10-foot pole; or try to get rid of him. The President’s half-brother was both indispensible to getting things done and a barrier to progress. And Ottawa never spoke much in public about him.

“Wali was the biggest conundrum,” one Canadian official involved in Afghanistan said. “No one really knew how to explain him.”

The Canadian government remained virtually silent too, after his assassination. The Defence and Foreign Affairs Ministers avoided comment, leaving Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan, William Crosbie, to issue a two-sentence statement condemning his killing, offering condolences, and saying no more about him.

But for almost six years Ahmed Wali Karzai was key to almost everything Canadians did in Kandahar. He wasn’t the governor, but the man who held sway over all matters, trivial and major. “He was one-stop shopping for civilian and military officials,” the Canadian official said.

One issue, in 2009, cooled Canadian relations with Mr. Karzai: Canada was taking on the development of the massive Dhalla Dam, but rebuffed his push to be granted a lucrative security contract. He knew Canada was eventually leaving, and turned more to U.S. officials.

Now, his death has left Canadians speechless about him again. It may lead to a period of chaos, or another may emerge to control his network; whether it weakens his brother, President Hamid Karzai, is unclear. Canada, having withdrawn, from combat and development in Kandahar, won’t face direct responsibility for the fallout, except for sharing the world’s burden for how it changes Afghanistan.

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