By Caroline Wyatt
Defence correspondent, BBC News
Maj Gen Nick Carter said Kandahar was essentially 'a political problem'
Nato forces in Afghanistan hope to "steal the ground" beneath the Taliban in a summer campaign to drive them out of Kandahar, a UK commander has said.
Maj Gen Nick Carter, who commands Nato forces in the south, said plans for the offensive were already under way.
Almost a decade of political and economic inequality in Kandahar city had led to lawlessness, criminality and a culture of impunity, he said.
His comments were made via a video link from Kandahar to reporters in London.
Maj Gen Carter said the situation in Kandahar was more complex than in Helmand, but was essentially "a political problem".
He described Kandahar as "culturally probably the most significant place in terms of the Pashtun people of Afghanistan".
The "shaping" part of the operation - the attempt to build up Afghan governance and security structures, as well as the number of Afghan police and soldiers - had already begun in Kandahar city, he said.
That would be followed by the expected military intervention in which US, Canadian and Afghan forces will seek to clear the Taliban from the outlying districts of Arghandab, Zhari and Panjwa'i.
He told reporters at the Ministry of Defence in London that a small number of Afghans in Kandahar had enriched themselves at the expense of others.
"This is all compounded by what I would only describe as pitifully weak real governance," he said.
The joint Afghan-Nato campaign in Kandahar, codenamed Hamkari - the Dari word for co-operation - will be predominantly led by US forces with Canadian support, and is not expected to take British forces away from their current role in Helmand.
Maj Gen Carter said he was in no doubt that what would happen in Kandahar over the course of the next six months would be of "massive significance to the campaign".
Mr Wali Karzai has been accused of links to drug trafficking and corruption
The attempt to clear the insurgency from its spiritual heartland in Kandahar will be a clear sign of whether Nato's overall campaign in Afghanistan can succeed.
It will come at a time when Nato will have the maximum troop numbers available thanks to the recent US surge.
The Nato senior commander also gave a clear signal that western forces are now trying to work with the Afghan president's half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the chairman of the Kandahar provincial council.
He has been accused of having connections to drug trafficking and corrupt business activities, which he denies. Maj Gen Carter described Mr Wali Karzai as "in many ways a positive influence".
"My sense is that he's either a candidate for an Oscar, or he's the most maligned man in Afghanistan," he told journalists.
But he acknowledged there were issues with his powerful provincial council exerting more control than it should.
He suggested Mr Wali Karzai was willing to relinquish some of his influence, saying the Afghan power-broker had told him he would rather watch his favourite football team - Chelsea - win the Premiership than deal with local disputes.
Maj Gen Carter also made clear that International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) and Afghan forces planned to crackdown on private security companies in the Kandahar area.
He said some needed to be "properly regulated as well as registered".
He admitted Nato itself had helped create much of the problem by contracting out supply convoys which then hired their own protection from local security companies to ensure safe passage along the most dangerous roads.
Those private companies pay Afghan employees $500 (£342) a month, well above the rate for Afghan soldiers or police of around $250 (£171) per month.
Maj Gen Carter also said warlords in Kandahar had been allowed to build up militias which they then claimed were private security companies.