Hamid Karzai: A profile
CBC News Online | September 21, 2006
Hamid Karzai's job as Afghanistan's president hasn't changed much since he took the job in late 2001. Since being named interim president, he has had to spread democracy, rebuild the country, establish security and fight back against terrorism.
Karzai has presided over two elections — a 2004 presidential ballot that he won and a 2005 parliamentary vote — and admits that terrorism is still the main concern. His country relies on some 70 donor countries, the United Nations and NATO allies, including Canada, to help combat the Taliban and other insurgents.
"Terrorism does not emanate from within Afghanistan," he told the United Nations in September 2006. "Afghanistan is its worst victim."
The president has been the public and admired face of Afghanistan and first turned heads for his fashion sense by wearing a traditional chapan, or Uzbek coat, at official functions.
Karzai comes from the dominant Pashtun tribe, and from the same clan as the former Afghan king Mohammad Zahir Shah. For a brief time in the early 1990s, he supported the Taliban, which had taken over when the holy warriors of the mujahedeen forced the Soviet Union to end its occupation of Afghanistan. At that time, he regarded the Taliban as Pashtun, like himself.
But he quickly became suspicious of the Taliban, displeased with the way the movement had been infiltrated by foreign elements such as Pakistani, Arab and Chechen extremists.
Then in 1999, the Taliban assassinated Karzai's father, Abdul Ahad Karzai, once a parliamentary deputy in the Afghan government. Karzai and his father had campaigned against the Taliban, operating from a base in Quetta, just across the border in Pakistan.
Karzai then devoted himself to the campaign against the Taliban, determined to bring his father's wish for a multi-ethnic, broad-based government in Afghanistan to fruition.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, Karzai worked with American agents to oust the Taliban.
After the U.S. campaign to overthrow the Taliban, in which he commanded 4,000 fighters in the push on Kandahar, Karzai seemed to be an ideal choice to lead an interim government. On Dec. 5, 2001, a group of exiled Afghan political leaders met in Bonn, Germany. The group picked Karzai chairman of a 29-member governing committee and leader of an interim government.
Attempts have been made on Karzai life twice since the ouster of the Taliban. On Sept. 5, 2002, in Kandahar, a gunman wearing the uniform of the new Afghan National Army opened fire, wounding the governor of Kandahar and an American Special Operations officer. Karzai's bodyguards returned fire, killing the gunman, as well as a bystander who knocked him down and one of their own men.
On Sept. 16, 2004, a rocket missed the helicopter Karzai was riding to Gardez, where he planned to open a school.
Karzai was educated in the West, fluently speaks six languages including English, and is at ease with the electronic media. He spent most of the 1980s in the United States. He served as Afghanistan's deputy foreign minister from 1992 to 1994, before the Taliban took over.
Karzai faced 17 challengers in Afghanistan's presidential election. None of them was given much of a chance of beating him. The only unknown was whether Karzai would win on the first ballot. He did with 55 per cent of the vote and became Afghanistan's first democratically elected president.