Michael Ware


TIME: The Price of a President's Life


What is a president's life worth? In Afghanistan it may prove to be as little as a pair of secondhand Toyota Corolla hatchbacks. That's the payoff Afghan intelligence officials believe was offered to Abdur Rehman, the man who attempted to assassinate president Hamid Karzai almost three weeks ago. The cars are said to have been waiting for Rehman across the border in Pakistan should he have succeeded and survived his bid to kill Karzai. He did neither. Instead, Rehman was gunned down after opening fire on the president's car on September 5, missing his target but wounding a provincial governor and a bodyguard.

When the shooting stopped that afternoon in the southern city of Kandahar the only clue to those behind the failed assassination was the dead gunman. Not much was known about him, except that he was a soldier, recruited into the government's ranks only weeks earlier and that he came from the vehemently pro-Taliban district of Kajaki, in neighboring Helmand province. Like thousands of others absorbed into military units or government positions in Kandahar since the fall of the Taliban regime in December, Rehman was not screened for Taliban or terrorist links. "That's what these people are doing, coming into the government through village connections or friends, that way there's no questions being asked," says a senior intelligence official in Kabul.

Intelligence operatives from Kandahar and the capital Kabul spent two weeks dredging over Rehman's past, scouring it for any hints as to who might have ordered or arranged the hit. An Afghan intelligence report, filed last week and examined by TIME identifies Rehman as Abdul Razaq, a Taliban assassin believed responsible for the murders of three opponents to the fundamentalist movement in Quetta in Pakistan in the mid-1990s. A veteran of the Kunduz and Takhar fronts during the Taliban's civil war with the United Front, Rehman was captured last year by the forces of northern warlord General Rashid Dostum. He was released earlier this year, most likely after his family paid the almost $900 ransom that was demanded to free each of the Taliban captives. Rahman returned to his village but soon after moved south to Kandahar. There he "used all his efforts to join the security forces and become a soldier", says the intelligence report.

Investigators say the dead hitman was connected to hardline Taliban commanders, such as Mullah Bradar and Abdul Wahid, still opposing government and U.S. forces in Afghanistan and suspected of hiding Mullah Omar. Their report may be met with some skepticism in Afghanistan, where speculation is widespread that Karzai's rivals within the government were responsible for the assassination attempt.