AWK was certainly a controversial figure. Ex-journalist Steve Coll described him as “the most visible, most intractable symbol of the corruption and the corporate self-interest of the Karzai government in southern Afghanistan". And Carl Forsberg, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, said that more than anyone, AWK "promote[s] instability and provides space for the Taliban to exist".
Two years ago, The New York Times, quoting former US officials, reported that the CIA was paying the AWK for a range of services, from the provision of security to information about insurgents. What remains clear is that AWK had close ties to Watan Risk Management, a blacklisted entity whose links with insurgents were detailed in congressional reports.
The problem for NATO has long been what to do with AWK — try to sideline him, kill him or work with him. In the end, NATO chose the latter and, in the eyes of many, became complicit in his corrupt ways, while the governor of Kandahar, Tooryalai Wesa, became a mere symbolic presence. Not long ago there was even talk of President Karzai actually replacing Governor Wesa with AWK, though in the end this did not happen, possibly because of Western pressure.
Now that AWK has died, there is likely to be a struggle among Kandahar’s would-be kingpins for his power, assets and henchmen. This will not only become violent but could serve to distract from fighting the Taliban; or at least give the Taliban an opportunity to inveigle themselves further into Kandahar. At the same time, AWK’s demise may be what is needed in Kandahar to strengthen Governor Wesa.