Kandahar City serves as a microcosm for Afghanistan, with its weak, corrupt government and resurgent class of powerbrokers, derided locally as warlords. It is also a strategic area that NATO is trying to win back, home to an estimated 800,000 city residents and several hundred thousand more in the surrounding area, and an influential hub of southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the insurgency is concentrated. US-led foreign forces are gearing up for a massive summer campaign in the surrounding province, which is also called Kandahar.
The city is “the cultural, spiritual, historical, political, religious center of gravity in the Pashtun belt,” says US Army Brig. Gen. Ben Hodges, referring to the south and east of the country where the Pashtun ethnic group mostly resides.
The most ubiquitous of Kandahar city’s powerbrokers is Ahmed Wali Karzai, half-brother of President Hamid Karzai and chairman of the provincial council. Western diplomats have repeatedly linked him to drug traffickers and money laundering, though he denies wrongdoing.
“Like any mafia organization, the guys who really matter are not the ones you have any evidence against,” says Mr. Sedwill.