Kandahar Mayor Killed in Suicide Attack

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Lisa Mullins: Extremism and violence are part of daily life in Afghanistan. Today brought another example. The story actually begins in Alexandria, VA. Ghulam Haidar Hamidi was working as an accountant there four years ago. Then he heard from a longtime friend in his home country of Afghanistan. That friend was Hamid Karzai. The Afghan president asked Hamidi to be mayor of the turbulent southern city, Kandahar. Hamidi accepted, though as he told us, he understood the dangers.

Ghulam Haidar Hamidi: One day we have to die. You will die if by car accident, by some other event. You will die in Kandahar by bullet or by bomb. What's the difference?

Mullins: Today, Hamidi dies in Kandahar by a bomb. An Afghan suicide bomber killed Hamidi as he was meeting with tribal elders at his office. Sarah Chayes advises the US military in Afghanistan. And Sarah, you lived yourself in Kandahar for many years. I wonder if you can tell us what you believe is happening there right now, because it was just two weeks ago that President Karzai's half brother, who was a power broker in Kandahar, was killed. Kandahar's police chief as you know, was killed a couple of months ago, and now the mayor of Kandahar. What's going on?

Sarah Chayes: Just to be clear, this is my own personal view based on my experience of Kandahar. And the first thing that I would say is that it really seemed like everybody else was getting killed, but nobody really close to Ahmed Wali Karzai was getting killed. This apparent impunity gave people in that inner circle a real arrogance and you would see them throwing their weight around. And I definitely have a feeling that there's a sense that the spell is broken; whoever killed Ahmed Wali Karzai, the impact has been, someone described it to me today as though an egg shell had broken and the egg is no longer protected. So you saw almost immediately another Karzai insider was killed in Kabul, and now Mayor Hamidi.

Mullins: Well, what happens then to the perspective from some of the population anyway, and some on the outside, that for instance, the mayor himself who was killed today, that this is a man who was in a sea of corruption, perhaps more honest than some of those around him, and that he was doing things that were fighting on behalf of some of the people there, trying to bring in normal city services and send back some of the vendors who had overtaken property -- even though that would get many, many people very angry?

Chayes: What I got overwhelmingly from the people that I live with and their friends is that there was an enormous high-handedness that Hamidi successfully marketed to us as you know, upholding the laws of Kandahar, but in fact what he was doing was engaging in a campaign for the last couple of years -- a campaign of evictions. And that meant yes, clearing vendors from streets. And in the case of the last couple of days he was bulldozing houses and in fact, two children had been killed the day before yesterday I think when a bulldozer was plowing into a house.

Mullins: What was the reason for the bulldozing?

Chayes: His claim is that these were government lands and in many cases they were. But the point is that in the case of a market that he had bulldozed, the small shopkeepers who had their shops in that market had purchased those shops or had been paying rent to the city. There was no procedure developed to deal with those legitimate claims or legitimate grievances.

Mullins: And what's your best advice? And I know you're speaking here as an individual, you're not speaking for the Pentagon. But what is your best advice for the Pentagon? Is this a time to try and reach out more to the citizens of Kandahar if possible?

Chayes: I think in general, and this goes for US foreign policy at large, if you look at the Arab spring for example or you look at Kandahar, our tendency at first is to default for stability because you know, reaching out to the population is complex, it's dynamic, it's volatile. Decision making in a more democratic system frankly is messier than it is when you've got a strongman, be he Mubarak or be he Ahmed Wali Karzai. But it's my personal view that long term stability is actually better served by solutions that may look a little bit messier in the short run because they offer an opportunity for people to make their grievances known, to have them addressed, and to vent some of their frustrations, honestly. And frankly, if there aren't channels for doing that in a nonviolent way people have a tendency to get violent.

Mullins: Sarah Chayes has lived in Kandahar, Afghanistan for about a decade. She advises the US military in Afghanistan, and she's the author of the book, The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban. Thank you, Sarah.

Chayes: Thank you.

Mullins: We profiled Mayor Hamidi in 2009. You can listen to that story at theworld.org. And you can also find an audio slide show of the life and death of another activist in Kandahar, Sitara Achakzai left a comfortable life in Germany and ended up fighting for women's rights in Afghanistan. Hear her words and witness her activism at theworld.org.