Afghan President Hamid Karzai -- a tall man, known for his trimmed
gray beard, ceremonial karakul cap and cape -- is presiding over
the reconstruction of a country mangled by decades of civil war,
foreign invasion and religious strife.
has been praised as a deft politician and diplomat. These traits,
combined with his family history, have propelled him into his
latest role as president, where he is faced with daunting security
and nationwide economic problems.
While Karzai has managed to dodge numerous assassination attempts,
he has not been able to completely avoid criticism over his effectiveness
as national leader.
Rise to power
An ethnic Pashtun from nearby Kandahar in southern Afghanistan,
Karzai was born Dec. 24, 1957. He is a member of the Popalzai
clan, which has close ties to the Afghan monarchy. His father
was a tribal elder as well as a leading member of Parliament during
Karzai was educated in Afghanistan's capital Kabul and attended
university in India from 1979 to 1983. He speaks numerous languages,
In 1979, after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Karzai's father
moved the family to the city of Quetta in Pakistan. It is said
that Karzai acquired from his father the dream of living in a
sovereign and united Afghanistan, ruled by a central government.
During the Soviet campaign, Karzai worked from Pakistan, raising
funds and support for the Mujahadeen -- often referred to as "holy
warriors" -- who were fighting the invaders.
In 1989, when the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, Karzai returned
to his home country and later joined the government of Northern
Alliance leader Burhanuddin Rabbani in 1992. He was appointed
deputy foreign minister.
Internal divisions soon crippled the state. A civil war ensued.
Major sections of Kabul were destroyed. The Taliban eventually
emerged as the new authority.
Initially, Karzai supported the group. In fact, in 1995, the
Taliban -- a pro-Pashtun movement -- offered Karzai the position
of U.N. ambassador in the new government. Karzai refused the position,
worried that the Taliban were too influenced by outside forces,
particularly the Pakistan intelligence service.
Karzai was forced, once again, to flee to Pakistan.
In 1999, Karzai's father, on his way home after prayers, was
shot and killed. Reports attribute the slaying to the Taliban.
In 2001, soon after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States,
as Americans prepared to strike -- and eventually remove -- the
Taliban from power in Afghanistan, Karzai vocally supported the
"These Arabs, together with their foreign supporters and the
Taliban, destroyed miles and miles of homes and orchards and vineyards,"
he told the BBC at the time. "They have killed Afghans. They have
trained their guns on Afghan lives. ... We want them out."
When the bombing commenced, Karzai slipped back into Afghanistan
and emboldened -- though some debate how effectively -- the ethnic-Pashtun
tribes in the south to help expel the Taliban from power.
In December 2001, after the Taliban had been ousted, Afghan leaders
and U.N. mediators met in Bonn, Germany, to devise a blueprint
for rebuilding the war-torn country. They chose Karzai as chairman
of the Interim Administration of Afghanistan until the traditional
grand council of the Afghan peoples, or Loya Jirga, could be convened
to create a provisional government and draft a new constitution.
In 2002, the Loya Jirga elected Karzai president of the transitional
government. Then in 2004, he was elected to a full five-year term.
He is the first president elected in the history of Afghanistan.
Hamid Karzai was the ideal presidential candidate, many experts
is Pashtun, an ethnic group with close ties to the king. The Pashtuns
also are not allied with the Northern Alliance, the military-political
coalition that presided over the country in the early 1990s when
it collapsed into civil war, making Karzai a centralized figure.
In addition to his support for the Mujahadeen in the '80s, through
which he demonstrated his Afghan nationalism, Karzai was vocal
during the American campaign, exciting people through radio broadcasts
about the prospect of a respectful and decent government.
"These were incredibly inspirational interviews," said Sarah
Chayes, a former National Public Radio reporter who has lived
in Afghanistan since 2002. "He speaks beautifully. And he really
helped them place their Taliban experience in a wider context.
... I know people in Kandahar who were jumping up and down, practically
dancing at what he was saying in these radio interviews."
Some experts say that the Afghans voted for Karzai as president
because he represented a continuation of American support.
"They did not see in any of the other candidates the possibility,
if they were elected, that the United States would continue to
provide the kind of material support and political support that
Karzai was expected to bring," said Nazif Shahrani, a professor
of Middle Eastern studies at Indiana University.
Shahrani, an Afghan-American, also suspects that Karzai might
have been working for the CIA, along with other Pashtuns with
close ties to the United States -- for instance, Zalmay Khalilzad,
formerly the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, now the U.S. ambassador
"There are people who maybe favored him, because he's a nice
guy," said Shahrani. "He really is a nice guy."
"He just has the quality of being a good khan [tribal leader]
-- a good local leader who basically does not make decisions and
waits for consensus. He loves to talk to anybody who comes in,
and his opinion is the opinion of the last person who walks into
his office and talks to him," said Shahrani.
Karzai's critics -- and even some of his former colleagues --
argue that he needs to devise a stronger and more calculated agenda
in order to confront the obstacles facing his country.
Karzai has been accused of surrounding himself with corrupt and
ineffective managers, in addition to mismanaging security and
overseeing a feeble economy. In August 2006, 60 members of Parliament
protested the appointment of some officials and cited poor performance
of Karzai's government, according to The New York Times.
However, not all of Karzai's problems are of his making.
Chayes, the former NPR reporter, said the U.S. government funded
and armed local Afghan warlords during the anti-Taliban campaign;
but after the expulsion, the United States failed to rein them
in. Karzai tried in late 2001 and early 2002 to make sure these
warlords didn't hold onto power once the Taliban fell, but the
United States didn't listen, said Chayes. Now these "tremendously
corrupt" warlords make a habit of "shaking down" the local citizens.
Karzai also has had to wrestle with neighboring Pakistan, which
he insists needs "to take a stronger cooperative approach towards
terrorism and to remove sanctuaries of terrorism from their country,"
he told ABC News in Sept. 2006.
Nonetheless, said critics, solving issues like security and corruption
necessitates a firmer agenda -- a vision.
"He has no vision -- absolutely no vision, no quality for leadership,"
said Ishaq Shahryar, Afghan ambassador to the United States from
2002 to 2003.
Shahryar said that while Karzai himself is decent, he surrounds
himself with incapable and ineffective people. "He's a sweetheart,"
said Shahryar. "He's a good man, a clean man. His government is
corrupt, but he's not."
Masood Aziz, acting executive director of the Afghanistan Policy
Council, agreed that the corruption within his government is a
problem that Karzai must blatantly -- perhaps publicly -- address
and develop a long-term solution to it.
Aziz, however, insisted that Karzai in fact possesses a firm
stance on domestic and foreign policy, a stance that must be placed
into the proper context. "What could one president do when a country
has no revenue, no budget, and is dealing with terrorism?
"Afghanistan is rebuilding itself truly from ashes."
Karzai won a second term as president, but only after fraud-ridden
voting on Aug. 20, 2009, triggered an investigation, which showed
Karzai actually received less than 50 percent of the vote. A runoff
was set for November between Karzai and his next closest challenger,
former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. Then, Abdullah's surprising
withdrawal from the runoff made Karzai the winner by default.
Karzai is married to Dr. Zeenat Quraishi. He has six brothers
and one sister.