Kandahar province is the strategic keystone for Afghanistan sitting as it does between the central Hindu Kush Mountains and the Registan Desert forming the country’s southern border. The province is also at the center of political turmoil as the United States begins a two-year troop withdrawal.
And the trends are not good. Part of the problem is the weakness of the U.S.-backed Afghan government’s political and military presence. Rather than actually build governmental institutions and the national army the power went to President Karzai’s tribal allies. There isn’t any real army there, just tribal militias. And they aren’t a very effective fighting force or a popular one. The result has been gains by the Taliban and numerous security breaches.
On the political level, the power-brokers have been tribal strongmen allied to the Karzai family who consolidated their rule during the turbulent 1980s and 1990s. But disorganization, corruption, and the limited power of these tribal leaders did not create a strong authority. Thus, the Taliban has been able to challenge the government militarily and politically.
What saved the situation was the presence of NATO forces with massive armament and logistical abundance. They gained apparent control of Kandahar. But under the surface the Taliban has been chipping away and now that the withdrawal of foreign forces approaches, death tolls are growing for both NATO and Afghan units. The fact that Ahmed Wali Karzai, half-brother of Afghanistan’s president and the area’s most powerful ruler, could be killed by his own trusted bodyguards shows how deceptive the supposed stability is in reality.