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Karzai Cousin Killed by Suicide Bomber in Afghanistan

By Tajuddin
Jul 29th, 2014

Hashmat Khalil Karzai, right, in Kabul in 2010
Hashmat Khalil Karzai, right, in Kabul in 2010

Kabul (DIPLOMAT) — Hashmat Khalil Karzai, a cousin of President Hamid Karzai and a powerful supporter of the presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani, was killed by a suicide bomber in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday as he greeted well-wishers at his home, government officials and a witness said.

Mr. Karzai was killed instantly when a young man embraced him and set off a bomb in his turban, according to these accounts of the attack, in Kandahar Province.

The bombing comes as political and security tensions have been rising in Afghanistan. Insurgent attacks in Kandahar Province in recent days have rattled the population, which had only relatively recently begun to enjoy a period of peace and security. The country is also mired in political uncertainty as the presidential runoff election between Mr. Ghani and his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, has been halted amid allegations of widespread fraud and threats of violence, forcing organizers to conduct a full audit of the June poll.

Neither the Taliban nor anyone else has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Mr. Karzai’s death is a clear blow to the Ghani campaign: he ran Mr. Ghani’s campaign in the south and at the same time secured a seat on the provincial council in the April election. His brother Hekmat Karzai has been a close adviser in Kabul to Mr. Ghani during the campaign.

“With immense shock, we’ve found out abt the death of dear Hashmat Karzai,” Mr. Ghani said in a statement posted by his Twitter account. A second post read: “His loss has left a void. He’ll be missed!”

The governor of Kandahar, Tooryalai Wesa, also expressed his sadness. “Hashmat was a big wall for Kandahar,” he said.

The bomber had mingled with elders and local people who came to greet Mr. Karzai at his home on the second day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday. “The enemy of Afghanistan is always misusing our culture and religion by carrying out cunning and un-Islamic acts,” Mr. Wesa said.

President Karzai also condemned the attack and expressed his condolences to friends and relatives of his cousin. “Like other Afghans that are being killed daily by these terrorist attacks, our family is not the exception and we accept this sacrifice,” he said in a statement issued by the palace.

Hashmat Karzai, 45, was a colorful character who kept a tamed lion in a fortress home he built in the family village of Karz, on the southwest side of the city of Kandahar. He had returned from the United States after the fall of the Taliban and ran a security firm, winning major American contracts.

He then tried to enter politics, a plan that revealed longstanding rifts within the Karzai family. His own father had been killed by another family member 25 years ago, and relatives accused Hashmat Karzai of shooting the man’s son in 2009, apparently in revenge. Mr. Karzai denied any involvement in the boy’s killing, saying his mother had long forgiven the cousin for her husband’s murder.

President Karzai and his brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, who as the head of the provincial council dominated affairs in Kandahar, hushed up the incident but opposed Hashmat Karzai’s attempt to enter politics. He nevertheless ran for a seat in parliamentary elections in 2010 but was unsuccessful after many of the votes in his favor were disqualified.

But since the death of Ahmed Wali Karzai at the hands of a bodyguard in 2011, Hashmat Karzai expanded his political profile. He won the highest number of votes in provincial council elections in April and managed a highly successful campaign for Mr. Ghani in the presidential runoff. There have been allegations of widespread fraud in favor of Mr. Ghani, particularly in southern areas, but residents of Kandahar said there had been a genuine mobilization of voters there in support of Mr. Ghani in the second round.

Abdullah Khan, a close friend of Mr. Karzai’s, said he did not know how the bomber could have gained access, given the strict body searches and the security scanner that every visitor had to go through at the house.

“We believe he was wearing his explosives in his turban,” said Mr. Khan, who was also wounded in the explosion.

“A young man approached Khalil to embrace him, as we Afghans are doing for the Eid celebrations,” he said. “Suddenly a huge blast occurred and when I saw Karzai, he was lying on the floor and I myself was injured, too.”

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