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Who is Hamid Karzai?

Satirist and illustrator Steve Brodner contemplates the identity of the embattled Afghan leader:

“Yeah, we’re thinking about Hamid Karzai, who is the president of Afghanistan.

It’s a country in real trouble.

He is a leader who seems to enjoy playing not just two sides against the middle, but many sides against many middles, depending upon, minute to minute, what he thinks his best shot is. Shape shifting. Having it matter less what the stated principal was, than survival.

And he is a survivor. Outwit, outplay, outlast. He does that. That’s what he does, in the context of the shifting power arrangements around him. So he maybe is less of a mover and shaker than a reflection of what’s happening in his world.

He is from the Pashtun tribe, from a line of leaders. In ’79, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, he was a part of the Afghan Liberation Front, which was associated with the Mujahideen. This was the time of the Cold War. The Soviet Union was seeing Afghanistan as a way to increase their foothold in the region. And because of the government in Afghanistan, the Soviets thought they had control.

But soon they had a war on their hands. The victorious troops split off — one of them was the Taliban. And then Karzai allied himself with them! Eventually, Karzai became disenchanted with that gang, and wound up leaving the Taliban. Come 2001, he is now allying himself with the Northern Alliance, and then after September 11, with the next wave of power that is coming through Afghanistan, which is the United States, he is made the leader of the country.

That becomes institutionalized with the election in 2004. The inauguration was actually thought of as a coronation, and it re-enacted the coronation of Achmid Shah Durani, who was king, suggesting his self-image. Perhaps he’s the man who would be king?

The 2009 election has, to many people, clearly been stolen by Karzai. Everybody knows the United States is leaving in July of 2011. Where will he go now? Where is he seeing the lines of power run? Does he make deals with wealthy war lords, or drug lords, or lords in Iran?

He is a survivor.”

Related stories:
Getting out of Afghanistan
The last outpost
Could Karzai reconcile with the Taliban?
The battle for Kandahar