The targeted attack that took place in Kandahar, Afghanistan recently has left more than a power vacuum. It has revealed the disarray that is plaguing Afghan society—and threatening any hopes for long-term stability the country may have. On 18 October, a gunman opened fire at the palace residence of Zalmai Wesa, the governor of Kandahar province, just as several top officials from both the U.S. and Afghan sides were exiting a high-level security conference. The perpetrator was identified as the Kandahar governor’s own bodyguard. The latest reports indicate that the shooting was the product of a militant plot originating in Pakistan.
The list of attendees at the conference included top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Austin “Scott” Miller and the local head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS). While Miller escaped unharmed, an American contractor as well as Governor Wesa were both wounded. The local NDS head was killed.
But the most consequential casualty of last week’s shooting was none other than the legendary Kandahar police chief Brigadier General Abdul Raziq.
A Complicated Ally
The United States lost an ally when Raziq was killed. The long-time police chief had been assisting U.S. forces in the country for the better part of two decades. As General Miller said in a statement released by Resolute Support: “Today, I lost a great friend, LTG Raziq. We had served together for many years…Afghanistan lost a patriot, my condolences to the people of Afghanistan. The good he did for Afghanistan and the Afghan people cannot be undone.”
Raziq certainly did have a distinguished career of fighting Islamist militants. The future general joined anti-Taliban almost immediately after September 11th. In November of 2001, Raziq was part of the force led by Fayda Mohammad and Gul Agha Sherzai, former governor of Nangarhar. He participated in overthrowing the Taliban in Kandahar, the region over which he would one day be the de facto ruler as head of the province’s police force. Due to his exceptional managerial abilities —not to mention his much lauded skill in battle— he eventually rose to the top of Kandahar’s police force in 2011.
Unfortunately, Raziq also had a darker side.
Part and parcel of doing business in Afghanistan’s security apparatus has for long included practices that by Western standards would be considered, how shall we put it…less than honorable. For years, international groups like the UN have recorded allegations of often egregious human rights violations on the part of the local offices. Kandahar’s police and intelligence units in particular have been accused of a whole slew of extrajudicial offences, from torture, to forced disappearances—even murder. All along, Raziq has denied these reports. Raziq has categorically denied all charges of abuse, referring to them as attempts to undermine him. “When someone works well, then he finds a lot of enemies who try to ruin his name,” he told reporters years ago in an interview.
Regardless of Raziq’s personal culpability, all of the evidence points to a long-standing trend of hardcore tactics used by the general’s men. Weather or not the Western alliance in Afghanistan condones these methods, the fact remains: they worked. Raziq kept Kandahar more or less in order, despite constant incursions by Taliban forces over the years. Along with Raziq’s undeniable abilities on the battlefield, this fact made the police commander a major U.S. asset.
The Last Vestige of Order
His loss, and the vacant leadership slot it has created, underscores the sad dysfunction that plagues Afghanistan. It does this in three important ways.
First off, Raziq’s story shows that there are no “clean” ways of getting things done in the country. Raziq, one of the most valued partners America had in the region, was marred by a track record that was “questionable” to say the least.
Second, the fact that an insider (one of the governor’s own inner circle no less) was the one that pulled the trigger shows that there are pretty much no security assurances in this territory. Patterns like the so-called “blue on green” killings that have peppered the West’s presence in Afghanistan—and continue till today—have also demonstrated this: The man to your right or left, that you expect to be fighting on your side, may actually be a Taliban sympathizer or (as in this case) an all-out militant operative.
Lastly, and arguably most importantly, Raziq’s death shows that one of the last remaining vestiges of order in Afghanistan may be wavering.
As anyone vaguely familiar with southwest Asia as a region knows, ethnicities and other national identities are rarely synonymous with those defined by officially recognized governments. There are no homogeneous “Afghans” per se but rather a loosely affiliated band of tribes that have and continue to live in the same region. What made Raziq and others like him so stable in their positions of power was due in part to their tribal affiliations and old standing inter-tribal relations. As journalist Tara Kathra outlines in her recent in-depth piece on Raziq, the police chief was a member of a prestigious clan known as the Achakzai, a tribe with familial connections to ancient rulers of Afghanistan. More importantly, Raziq’s family maintained traditional alliances with other tribes in the Kandahar. This set-up more or less insured his leadership position would remain secure—or so he thought. All of the individuals in close association with governor Wesa —his bodyguards included— are also part of this tribal “constellation” of loyalties and pacts that were for long considered to be sacred. Although details of the reported plot to assassinate Raziq are still unknown, the very fact that enemies of Raziq were able to infiltrate that deep into the Kandahar leadership strongly indicates that these tribal ties are being thrown to the wind.
These facts do not present an optimistic projection for a country that seems to be permanently ensconced in war.