Qadir, one of Afghanistan's most astute and powerful Pashtun politicians, had been a linchpin in President Hamid Karzai's effort to reconcile the country's largest ethnic group with the rest of the nation. His death increases the risk of ethnic division in a nation already suffering from civil violence. His passing also removes a moderate voice from Karzai's government, still struggling to impose its authority across Afghanistan.
Qadir's death marks the end of an epic of two remarkable brothers. Qadir had been the elder of the two; Abdul Haq, 12 years his junior, had been the favored one. Abdul Haq was a legendary mujahedin hero in the war against the Soviets. In America's battle against the Taliban, he became one of the few Washington selected to eventually lead the country. But Abdul Haq, for all his talents, was unlucky. He lost a foot in a land-mine explosion years ago; he lost his wife and children to Taliban assassins; and finally, last October, he lost his life when gunmen ambushed him while he led a mission to rally Afghans against the Taliban.
That left Abdul Qadir. As the Taliban collapsed, the former warlord returned to the family power base around the eastern city of Jalalabad. He took possession of property the Taliban had used as an ammunition dump: three buildings full of rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, tank shells and "enough AK-47 cartridges to last for 10 years," as one of his fighters told a TIME correspondent late last year. The ammo was enough to make Qadir, already rich from the opium trade, a power to be reckoned with not only in Jalalabad (where two other warlords laid claims to power in his absence) but in all of Afghanistan.
While it wasn't immediately clear who killed Abdul Qadir, he had lived a controversial life and left a long list of enemies. In 1996 he welcomed Osama bin Laden to the region and gave him refuge in the opium-rich area around Jalalabad. Some of Qadir's rivals say he took $10 million to give up Jalalabad to the Taliban. When the Taliban fell, he reclaimed the governorship and, as part of the "new" Afghanistan, helped lead a heavy-handed crackdown on narcotics.
Local traders and drug barons, many of whom had been supporters of Qadir, were furious. Moreover, although Qadir was vocal about the rights of the Pashtun, some viewed his cooperation with the Tajik-dominated regime in Kabul and his lack of support for the reinstatement of Afghanistan's king, Zahir Shah as a betrayal."My efforts have been to urge people here to have patience," Qadir told TIME in June.
His death illustrates the nature of public life in this nation. As his political and military fortunes mounted, so did the number of his enemies, some of whom had once been allies. Sooner or later, Qadir's luck was bound to run out.