A “Moment” of reflection for Hamid & Ahmed Wali Karzai

by Paul Fitzgerald & Elizabeth Gould

“The Diem Moment” for Karzai Brothers?

And so the notorious Ahmed Wali Karzai (A.W.K) is dead, killed by a (formerly) trusted bodyguard who had worked closely with U.S. Special forces and the C.I.A. The assassination of a C.I.A. strategic asset, alleged Kandahar drug boss and tribal “fixer” for his half brother Afghan president Hamid Karzai raises a lot of questions, not to mention issues, about the nature as well as the future of America’s involvement in Afghanistan.

Not surprisingly, the Taliban issued a statement claiming credit for the killing as retribution for his role in “Cooperating with the Americans, Canadians and Britons… for spreading the net of intelligence of the Western invaders and boosting their sway in south-west Afghanistan.” They also claimed he continued to receive “high salary from CIA.”

As it was elsewhere in Afghanistan, America’s approach to Kandahar after 2001 was always counterintuitive. Putting hated warlords back in charge to fill the leadership vacuum left by fleeing Taliban was expedient but self-defeating. But U.S. reliance on this unorthodox strategy for success has remained consistently curious for the Taliban-stronghold. During a trip to Kabul in the fall of 2002 we were told that Pakistani ISI were crossing the Durand line (the disputed border between Afghanistan and Pakistan) to openly recruit Afghans for al Qaeda/Taliban cells in the villages of the province. No one we spoke to could explain such a lapse in U.S. intelligence, considering that at the time, (prior to the Iraq invasion) the U.S. had all the resources necessary to deal with such a flagrant cross-border operation.

In the ensuing years, Ahmed Wali Karzai filled in for the U.S. absence by running Kandahar province as a Karzai family protectorate. With C.I.A. backing A.W.K. built his power base up from nothing and in 2005 was elected to Kandahar’s provincial council. With local officials and tribal elders in his pocket, he was a sure bet to take over the governor’s office. In 2008, A.W.K. ran afoul of his C.I.A. beneficiaries and was subjected to an intense effort by senior US military officials to remove him prior to the “surge” of U.S. forces. That effort failed, but the acrimony and distrust of Ahmed Wali’s methods and alliances remained.

As a linchpin in General Petraeus’s 2009 “surge” strategy for victory over the Taliban, A.W.K. symbolized the dysfunctional symbiosis stretching between the Presidential Palace, the American Command and the U.S. Embassy. His sudden absence now leaves either a strategic vacuum in U.S. plans or a long awaited opportunity – just as the promised U.S. draw down begins and Petraeus ends his Afghan tour to become the Director of Central Intelligence.

In September of 2010, former Chief of the C.I.A.’s Directorate of Operations, Dr. Charles Cogan invoked the ghost of Vietnam when he posted a blog asking whether the United States wasn’t approaching “the Diem Moment” in relation to Hamid Karzai and his powerful brothers. Vietnamese president Diem and his brother Nhu were perceived as having become anti-American and were making passes at France and even the enemy in Hanoi. Cogan suggested that the time was fast approaching for Mr. Karzai and his family members to be offered safe passage out of Afghanistan before the worst befell them.

But as Dr. Cogan should know, A.W.K’s assassination smacks of another event in Afghan history far more appropriate to this moment than allusions to Vietnam, and it’s that moment which we’ll call the “Hafizullah Amin moment” that better provides the clues to the strange death of Ahmed Wali Karzai.

Hafizullah Amin was the U.S. educated, pseudo-Marxist Afghan-nationalist-strongman overthrown by the Soviets that December 1979, after playing out his role in a tragicomic farce to lure the Soviets into their own Vietnam. It was well known at the time that Amin had a longstanding relationship with the C.I.A. and was cutting a deal (brokered by Pakistan) with his fellow Ghilzai Pashtun, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. U.S. ambassador Adolph Dubs had been carefully trying to work Amin away from Soviet influence but was so worried about his provocative behavior Dubs had gone to his own C.I.A. station chief and demanded to know if Amin was a C.I.A. agent. In February of 1979, Dubs ran into the deeper agenda already underway when he was kidnapped by a band of Tajik Maoists and assassinated when Amin ordered an attack on the room where he was being held hostage.

In the months leading up to the Soviet invasion, Amin tried to twist out of the knot by filling Kabul’s ministries with his closest relatives, arresting scores of old friends and agreeing to accept the Durand line as the permanent border with Pakistan, but his time in the saddle had run out. Amin had become hated by his own people and a disposable nuisance to all concerned, both American and Soviet. The rest, as they say, is history.

Fast Forward to 2011 as a panicked President Hamid Karzai surrounds himself with relatives, anti-US advisors and religious fanatics drawn once again from the ranks of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hesb-i Islami, as he fends off hostile attacks and conspiracies from a dozen directions meant to bring him down.

With his power-broker-brother gone and his access to Kandahar’s complex patronage system cut off, Hamid Karzai has been dealt a severe blow. The death of Ahmed Wali Karzai closes off a major option for his half brother Hamid at a crucial moment when Washington has shifted into phase two of its ten year program for Central Asia and with the Durand line once again the focus of the U.S. war. Next up comes the large military bases that the U.S. wants to occupy beyond 2014 and a status of forces agreement. This is something which Karzai cannot afford to allow for fear of alienating Afghanistan’s population and his regional neighbors and at the same time cannot refuse and continue to accept protection as an American client. Karzai is desperate to find allies to save him, but time is short. Should he get the nod from strongman Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s backers in Iran and Pakistan to merge his dwindling political forces with those of the Hesb-i Islami he may get a reprieve, but without his man in Kandahar, Ahmed Wali to do his dirty work, Hamid Karzai’s “Hafizullah Amin moment” may be right around the corner.

Copyright © 2011 Gould & Fitzgerald All rights reserved


By Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould

As the first journalists to enter Kabul in 1981 for CBS News with Dan Rather following the expulsion of the Western media the previous year, we continue to be amazed at how the American disinformation campaign between Hollywood, Washington and Wall Street built around the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan lives on. We’ve seen this pattern from the media again and again. It happened AGAIN in Huffpost’s July 8th 10 Jaw-Dropping Journalism Scandals that missed the biggest scandal of all.

Watch our critique of the MSM “narrative” Exposing the Official 1980s – created to build support for Charlie Wilson’s War following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Click here for the Mary Williams Walsh 1990 interview in The Progressive Magazine that lays out the charges of fakery against CBS News for its Afghanistan coverage.

Our opportunity to see inside a Soviet-occupied Afghanistan revealed a complex story of political betrayal, women’s rights and a struggle for modernity, but the footage we returned with didn’t conform to the evil empire image that CBS News had been promoting. Four weeks after our return, a story about our trip was aired, cross-cut with footage created by the Soviets that in no way represented our experience. But as an anti-Soviet piece, it was masterful. Then in 1983, under contract to ABC Nightline, we invited Roger Fisher, director of the Harvard Negotiation Project, to return with us to assess the chances of negotiating the Soviets out of Afghanistan. Roger told us that the Kremlin’s chief Afghan specialist said, “Give us six months to save face and we’ll leave the Afghans to solve their own problems.” This information was rejected as news by ABC World News Tonight. Then the Soviet request – as explained by Roger on Nightline – was framed in such a way by host Ted Koppel, that it dispelled any notion that there was a chance of a Soviet withdrawal.

As the decade of the 1980s wore on, the Soviet occupation left the realm of journalism and transformed into a Ramboesque struggle of holy warriors against the evil empire. Then in 1989 when the Soviets withdraw, the Afghan story disappeared from the media’s radar completely. The cold war had ended and the mythology dictated that the U.S. had “won.” The Afghan people were left to deal with the blowback from the mujahideen fighters who had been supported by the largest publicly known U.S. covert operation since Vietnam. Over the next few years that process would give rise to the Taliban and morph into the threat the U.S. faces today. Without any serious reflection on the consequences of funding and training extremists for the purpose of defeating the Soviet Union, the American media not only missed the deeper story, but ignored where the Afghan story had been corrupted for political purposes.

Then articles in the New York Post by Janet Wilson in 1989 and a Columbia Jounalism Review article by Mary Williams Walsh  in 1990 charged that CBS News repeatedly aired fake battle footage and false news accounts. The accusations caused no serious questioning by the media. It wasn’t until 9/11 that Afghanistan got back on the media’s radar. But the media continues to resist the deeper analysis necessary to bring about the kind of thinking required by America’s current intervention in Afghanistan.

To this day, the press largely accepted, without investigation, the view that a Soviet triggered Muslim Holy War against communism was taking place. Even when both Robert Gates, the former Secretary of Defense, and Zbigniew Brzezinski President Carter’s national security adviser, admitted in print (Gates, in his book, From the Shadows; Brzezinski, 1998 interview in Le Nouvel Observateur), that the U.S. had been secretly undermining its own diplomatic efforts in order to give the Soviets their own Vietnam in Afghanistan, the American press failed to see it as news.

Brzezinski’s Le Nouvel Observateur remarks are addressed in a 2005 interview he did with Samira Goetschel for her film, Our Own Private Bin Laden. She asked: “In your 1998 interview with the French Magazine Le Nouvel Observateur you said that you knowingly increased the probability of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.” Brzezinski responded: “The point very simply was this. We knew the Soviets were already conducting operations in Afghanistan. We knew there was opposition in Afghanistan to the progressive effort which had been made by the Soviets to take over. And we felt therefore it made a lot of sense to support those that were resisting. And we decided to do that. Of course this probably convinced the Soviets even more to do what they were planning to do…”

As we document in our books, the record contradicts Brzezinski’s assumption that the Soviets would have invaded. The world was remade with the Soviet folly in Afghanistan, a Communist empire destroyed and the West’s pre-eminence assured. But the price in human suffering in Afghanistan and the impact on our democratic freedoms and aggressive press coverage has yet to be understood.

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