Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday that he has asked the Interior Ministry to investigate the slaying of a young relative in a possible revenge killing connected to a family feud.
The October killing of 18-year-old Waheed Karzai in southern Afghanistan had apparently attracted little attention in Afghanistan before it was reported this week by the New York Times, but Karzai was asked about it during a news conference with the visiting NATO chief. The report raised questions about whether Karzai's administration was trying to downplay the killing and whether powerful families could escape investigation, a sensitive issue amid rising concerns about corruption and impunity in Karzai's government.
Waheed Karzai was shot to death in October in Karz, the president's hometown in Kandahar province. He was the son of the president's cousin, Yar Mohammad Karzai. The Times quoted relatives as saying they believed another cousin, Hashmat Karzai, shot the teenager as vengeance for a so-called honor killing allegedly committed three decades ago.
The report cites relatives as saying that Yar Mohommad Karzai had killed the father of Hashmat Karzai who was also one of the president's cousins. Hashmat Karzai, in turn, reportedly denies any role in the October shooting of Waheed Karzai and suggests it was committed by drug dealers who targeted the teenager by mistake.
"Anything can be possible, so we will have to wait and investigate if the truth is this, that an accident occurred ... or there is something else going on that's more conspiratorial. We don't know," the Afghan leader said.
"Both sides have contacted me within the family," he said. "The Ministry of Interior is also investigating the issue. At this point that is all I can say."
A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Zemeri Bashary, said Karzai ordered the ministry to begin investigating the killing three days ago, the same day the newspaper report was published. He said counterterrorism police and criminal investigators were assisting local officials, who began looking into the killing earlier.
Hashmat Karzai heads the Afghanistan-based Asia Security Group, which provides security for five U.S. military bases in the country.
Col. Wayne Shanks, a U.S. military spokesman, declined to comment on the feud allegations. He said Asia Security Group got the contracts because "it was judged to have the best service for the best cost."
On Tuesday, NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen pledged that operations in Afghanistan will show "new momentum" in 2010 as more troops bolster the international force.
"We will focus much more on protecting the population, protecting the roads and protecting development projects. We will train more Afghan army and Afghan police, and starting next year, they will start to take the lead where and when they are ready," he said.
The United States plans to send some 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and another 7,000 are expected from other countries.
Fogh Rasmussen pledged that foreign troops would protect the Afghan people until the country's own security forces are able to prevent the Taliban from regaining control of the country and to root out al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.
"We know that the price of inaction, the price of leaving too early would be far higher," he said. "So we will stay the course. It is as simple as that."
NATO, meanwhile, is seeking additional help in Afghanistan from Russia, which already has allowed supply routes from the north to supplement the main route through the Khyber Pass that had increasingly been targeted by militants. Fogh Rasmussen said that during a visit to Moscow last week, he made concrete proposals including Russian equipment for the Afghan army _ most particularly helicopters _ and training for pilots, police and anti-narcotics officers.
"We did not conclude those discussions, and the Russians did not make any pledges during my visit," Fogh Rasmussen said. The Soviet Union fought a disastrous 10-year war in Afghanistan before withdrawing in 1989.
Karzai reiterated his call urging the Taliban to enter negotiations, saying that foreign troops would not be needed in the country if there were peace.
The Taliban has so far rejected proposals for talks, while resentment of the presence of international forces in Afghanistan appears to be rising and fueling support for the militants.
Also Tuesday, NATO reported that several militants had been killed in operations in two parts of the country. In a statement, it said several were killed Monday in Ghazni province as a joint Afghan-international force searched compounds where insurgent activity had been reported and that a joint force pursuing a Taliban commander in Kandahar province on Tuesday killed some militants. The statement did not give specific numbers or other details.
Karzai's office said that he and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown held a telephone conversation about preparations for the international conference on Afghan security, governance and civilian engagement that is to be held in London on Jan. 28.
Associated Press writers Dusan Stojanovic and Jim Heintz in Kabul contributed.