Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Kandahar provincial council chief and the half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was assassinated at his home in Kandahar on Tuesday by a close associate.

He is regarded as one of the country’s most powerful men. According to hospital and government officials, Karzai was shot twice, in the head and in the chest, killing him instantly.

Karzai is a known power broker in the country’s southern provinces and his death is seen in some sectors as huge loss in the West’s battle against the Taliban who is seeing resurgence in the area lately. Initial reports say that Karzai was killed by a friend in his Kandahar home but this statement was later clarified that the killing was actually done by his personal bodyguard.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the assassination and alleged that the bodyguard who is said to be responsible in Karzai’s death was one of them. They celebrated the attack and hailed it as one of their biggest achievements since the US-led invasion of the country in 2001.

Many, however, are skeptical about the Taliban’s involvement in the incident. Khaled Pashtun, provincial politician in Kandahar, noted that the Islamist group has also claimed assassinations in the past but without showing any proof of their actual involvement.

The alleged killer, Sardar Mohammed, worked for Karzai for eight years and was a trusted man of the provincial council chief. He used to command a police station and under him were around 30 policemen.

Immediately after the shooting, the other guards of Karzai also shot Mohammed. He instantly died on the spot. It remains a question on what motivated Mohammed and whether or not he did what he did on the orders of the Taliban.

There emerged some speculations that the killing may have been due to a personal dispute between the bodyguard and Karzai. The Afghan Interior Ministry is now looking into the matter and will be conducting its own investigation.

This coincided with the visit of French President Nicolas Sarzoky in the capital city of Kabul. President Karzai confirmed the murder of his half-brother in a joint press conference with Sarkozy.

In a statement, General David Petraeus, commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, condemned the killing and offered the help of his forces in helping the Afghan government in trying to bring to justice whoever was truly responsible in Karzai’s killing.

General Petraeus has recognized the role of Karzai in curbing the Taliban’s influence in some parts of the country ever since he took command of the NATO forces in Afghanistan last year. NATO’s approach was to work with him considering that they have increased their military presence in the Kandahar area.