THE BLOG

Family Feuds

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is having problems with both of his extended families, his blood -- and lately bloody -- kin, and his political family, which includes Afghanistan's "elected" government, Karzai's reshuffled cabinet, and the Western governments that are spending blood and billions to prop up the Karzai regime. And as it turns out, it's all very incestuous.

The recent killing of 18-year-old Waheed Karzai, the son of one of President Karzai's cousins, allegedly by Hashmat Karzai, a first cousin of the President, offers a lesson for the West: Afghanistan is still a nation of men, not of laws, and will remain so for some time to come. Honor killings without legal consequences are accepted practice, notwithstanding the veneer of democracy imposed on the country since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.

The story, ably reported by James Risen in the New York Times on December 20, is a tale of a spurned fiancé, a revenge killing, and a nearly 30-year wait to balance the books with another murder. No one was ever brought to justice for the earlier killing, which reportedly took place in 1982 or 1983 in Quetta, Pakistan. And no charges have been brought against Hashmat Karzai - who denies any involvement and blames drug dealers and mistaken identity - and probably never will be. The power of the Karzai family trumps any system of written law, especially since the murder took place in President Karzai's home village, Karz, in an area ruled Mafia-style by the president's brother Wali Karzai. What's more, according to Risen (and here's where the blood-and-politics incest comes in) Hashmat Karzai owns a security company that holds lucrative contracts with the United States military. The family of the deceased, and several Karzais who live outside of Afghanistan, are demanding legal action. Spurred no doubt by the Times account, President Karzai has directed the Interior Minister to look in to the killing. But in time the case will probably blow over, and no one with the authority to do so, in either of President Karzai's extended families, is likely to push very hard for a prosecution.

I can recall a similar case near Peshawar, Pakistan in 1987 when I was training Afghans in journalism. We got a report of a shooting in an Afghan refugee enclave just outside of Peshawar and sent our student journalists there to see what they could find out. They came back with a story of a revenge killing, and although the Pakistani police got involved at the start, it was left to tribal elders to decide the fate of the accused killer, and the police bowed out.

The Western countries trying to tailor a new suit of democratic threads for Afghanistan will be recutting and restitching for many years to come, and will never achieve a perfect fit.

Meanwhile, President Karzai continues to demonstrate his disdain for the Western nations that keep him, however shakily, in office. In the restructuring of his 24-member cabinet Karzai thumbed his nose at the U.S. and other allies who had pushed for the removal of old-guard warlords such as Ismael Khan who keep Afghanistan mired in the politics of corruption and violence.