When the news broke this morning that Afghan President Hamid Karzai's influential half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, had been assassinated at his heavily guarded residence in Kandahar by a longtime confidante named Sardar Mohammed (identified as a "bodyguard," local "commander," or "emissary and travel companion," depending on the report), the Taliban immediately claimed responsibility. On its website, the militant group wrote that Mohammed, Karzai's "bodyguard," had been "in contact with Mujahideen" and characterized the assassination as "one of the most successful attacks carried out by Mujahideen" since the Taliban launched its "spring offensive." And yet, as the Afghan government investigates the incident, many people are dubious of the Taliban's brash proclamation. Why the skepticism?
Khaled Pashtun, a politician in Kandahar gives the BBC one reason: The Taliban are a kind of 'boy who cried wolf,' claiming responsibility for attacks in the past without offering much evidence of their involvement (when attacks result in civilian causalities, the group is more reticent). Indeed, the Taliban declared that it was behind the massive attack on Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel in late June, only for NATO to later claim that the Taliban-affiliated, Pakistan-based Haqqani Network orchestrated the assault. What's more, Karzai, who the AP identifies as the "most powerful man in southern Afghanistan," had cultivated many enemies. Said to be on the C.I.A.'s payroll and involved in drug trafficking--allegations he denied--Karzai had become a symbol of the corruption plaguing the Afghan government. The Kabul-based journalist Matthieu Aikens, who recently penned an article on Karzai for Harper's, tweets that Karzai "seems to have been killed by a confidant over a personal dispute, not by the Taliban."
To be sure, there's also substantial evidence to suggest the Taliban was behind the attack. As the AP notes, Karzai had survived numerous assassination attempts by the Taliban in recent years--including suicide attacks on Kandahar's provincial council office and an ambush of his motorcade--and told the BBC shortly before his death that he received death threats "every day" from the group. The assassin, who was swiftly killed by Karzai's guards, also hailed from the same tribe as Karzai, and "bloodletting within tribes is fairly uncommon," according to the AP. The Globe and Mail also points out that the attack would be in keeping with the Taliban's activities in the volatile province of Kandahar, the birthplace of the insurgency, in the last few months, which have included dispatching suicide bombers to murder the provincial police chief and kidnapping the son of a prison official. "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," the paper writes.