The most important power broker in southern has been shot dead along with at least one other senior official days before parliamentary elections, leaving a security vacuum in the Taliban’s heartland.
The gunman, part of the governor’s elite bodyguard, wiped out much of the leadership in Kandahar province, the birthplace of the insurgent group, as they emerged from a meeting.
The top US general in Afghanistan, Austin Scott Miller, was at the meeting but escaped unscathed, a Nato spokesman said. Two US citizens were injured in the gunfire.
The primary target was a police chief, Abdul Raziq, the most influential man in the south. The Kandahar provincial spy chief, Abdul Momin, was also killed, and both the governor, Zalmai Wesa, and a regional army commander, Nabi Elham, were fighting for their lives in hospital, officials said.
The were quick to claim the attack but provided no proof. In the past they have taken credit for violence they did not coordinate.
Raziq was a hugely controversial figure, dogged by accusations of. Last year the UN over allegations of torture and enforced disappearances.
Yet he was also considered a bulwark against the insurgents, was and was credited with security improvements in recent years. His death risks destabilising southern Afghanistan at a time of huge political uncertainty.
“Raziq’s rise as the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan brought with it a kind of grim dystopian security to Kandahar city,” said Graeme Smith, an analyst with the International Crisis Group who lived in Kandahar for several years.
“He was a larger than life charismatic military figure who had escaped death so many times that he wore an aura of invincibility. The Taliban had been making slow territorial advances [in Kandahar], and his death will accelerate the pace.”
Khalid Pashtoon, an MP who represents Kandahar, said the attacker opened fire as Miller was leaving. “The meeting had ended and General Miller had just got into his helicopter and closed the door when the man started shooting. The first bullets hit General Raziq and killed him,” he said.
Pashtoon said he was concerned about security and called for the government to act quickly. “I’m not worried about a door-to-door battle but people are worried that the security situation will change here.”
Raziq had over the years, and if it was a Taliban insurgent that succeeded in getting through his layers of security then it would be a major coup for the group.
But even if the Taliban did not plan the attack, it is likely to hugely benefit them. Raziq was 39, energetic and was virtually born into enmity with the Taliban owing to long-running family animosities.
Recognised for his military prowess, he was known to jump on to helicopters and fly to the frontlines at times of intense fighting, and even rumours of these battlefield visits would boost morale.
His death was mourned by many in the Afghan security establishment. “I can’t find weighty and dignified enough words to express my grief and pain for the loss of my compatriot and brother Gen Razeq,” the former national spy chief Amrulleh Saleh , using an alternative spelling of Raziq’s name.
“He was the architect of stability in Kandahar by establishing a political network deep at grassroots level in support of the state and ANDSF [Afghan national defence and security forces].”
Activists said it was important to remember the price that others paid in his drive for control of the region and his fight against the Taliban.
“Amid all the concern about what this will mean for security, especially in the south, it is vitally important to recall the many victims of human rights crimes by Gen Raziq,” said Patricia Grossman, an Afghanistan analyst with Human Rights Watch.
“Insecurity in Kandahar has been in part fuelled by horrific abuses including disappearances and torture by the Kandahar police on his watch.”