His death leaves a massive hole in the fabric of Kandahari power politics and shows how dangerous a strategy of relying on individual power brokers can be. Ahmed Wali was the linchpin of the Loya Kandahar pro-Karzai network, a pan-tribal alliance brought together by money and mutual security that included figures like Aref Noorzai, Agha Lalai Dastagiri, Fazluddin Agha, and the current chief of police, Brig. Gen. Abdul Raziq.
There is now no clear successor to Ahmed Wali, and certainly no one can combine his vast influence and closeness to the president. Any figure other than a Popalzai might upset the delicate balance between the pro-government elements of Kandahar's various tribes, and so his two brothers, Qayum and Shah Wali, are seen as potential candidates who could step into the role of the president's power broker in the south.
There was also speculation, in my conversations with Kandahari politicians, that this might open the door for Gul Agha Sherzai, a former governor of Kandahar, to return. Sherzai represents the Barakzai tribe, and his considerably rivalry with Ahmed Wali in the early years eventually led him to be pushed out to the consolation prize of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan. Yet relations between Sherzai and the president are said to have improved in recent years, and Sherzai has also earned respect among internationals for his steady-handed, if rather venal, handling of his bailiwick, a key territory bordering Pakistan.
For now, Kandahar is tense and bracing itself for future fallout. Ahmed Wali was never popular in Kandahar among the ordinary locals. Street vendors and schoolteachers alike would blame him for the criminality and corruption that have only grown since 2001. But the Kandahari friends I've spoken with since his death have shown no joy, only apprehension for what the future might bring.
"The city is locked down; there are checkpoints everywhere and helicopters overhead," said one. "We are afraid of what will happen next."