Hamid Karzai life and biography

Hamid Karzai picture, image, poster

Hamid Karzai biography

Date of birth : 1957-12-24
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Kandahar, Afghanistan
Nationality : Afghan
Category : Politics
Last modified : 2010-07-23
Credited as : Politician, President of Afghanistan, World's political leader

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Hamid Karzai, born December 24, 1957 in Kandahar, Afghanistan is an Afghan politician and the current President of Afghanistan.

Plucked out of relative obscurity, Hamid Karzai was appointed the interim President of Afghanistan during a conference held in Bonn, Germany in 2001 after the fall of the Taliban. He had the overwhelming task of unifying his nation after more than 20 years of conflict, while rebuilding and providing basic needs such as water, food, and shelter. Enlisting the help of world leaders, Karzai raised billions of dollars to assist Afghanistan. His persuasiveness was enhanced by his fluency in several languages and his mild manner, as well as the stylish figure he cut in colorful capes and caps. On October 9, 2004 his position as leader of Afghanistan was confirmed by the electorate, in a free election whereby the populace rejected previous rule by warlords and the militant Taliban. Karzai, who took 55 percent of the eight million votes cast, was sworn into office in a ceremony at the former royal palace in Kabul in December. In his inaugural address he hailed the day as the beginning of "A new, peaceful, prosperous era.".

Followed Father's Dream

Born into a royal Afghan family, Karzai was the son of the khan ("head") of the Popolzai, a Pashtun clan comprised of half a million people in southern Afghanistan. His father went on to serve as the speaker of the Afghan Parliament. Karzai had six brothers and one sister and was educated in India. Fluent in seven languages, including English, he was dedicated to his country from an early age. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, he became actively involved in the fight against them. He moved to Pakistan and worked on behalf of the Mujahideen (anti-Soviet Afghan guerrillas), channeling weapons supplied by the United States.

During the 1980s, Karzai spent much of his time in the United States, where six of his siblings had moved and had established themselves in business or academia. But Karzai always intended to return to Afghanistan.

His tribal position earned Karzai great respect in Afghanistan, and when the Mujahideen took power in 1992, he served as the deputy foreign minister for two years under President Burhanuddin Rabbani. When Karzai grew disenchanted with factional infighting within Rabbani's government, he returned to Pakistan and turned to the Taliban, who at the time he regarded as fellow Pashtuns. "The Taliban were good, honest people," Karzai told Atlantic's Robert D. Kaplan. "They were connected to the madrassas [Islamic academies] in Quetta and Peshawar, and were my friends from the jihad [holy war] against the Soviets. They came to me in May, 1994 ... I had no reservations about helping them...."

But soon Karzai withdrew his support of the Taliban. As an Islamic moderate he recoiled from their brutality and inflexible restrictions, especially the strict and often cruel treatment of women. Karzai grew all the more uncomfortable with the influx of foreign extremists into the Taliban. He and his father became outspoken opponents of the Taliban; when his father was assassinated in 1999, Karzai held the Taliban responsible. He dug in his heels, opposing the Taliban and working towards his father's dream of establishing a multi-ethnic, broad-based government in Afghanistan.

Karzai's zeal for his country caused him to delay personal matters. Most Afghan men took wives while in their twenties, but Karzai put off marriage until January 1999. His brother's wife, Pat Karzai, told Time's Tim McGirk that, "Having a wife was not a priority to him. He was only dedicated to Afghanistan." It was only when his mother made it her dying wish that he married, choosing Zinat, a doctor, as his wife.

But personal matters did not occupy Karzai for long. When the United States went to war with the Taliban in 2001, he played a significant role, securing the surrender of Taliban commanders in Kandahar, even though earlier they had vowed to fight to the death.

Called to Leadership

After the Americans and Afghan tribes combined their efforts to defeat the Taliban in 2001, there was great concern that Afghanistan would fall into disarray without a plan for a new government. An international conference (which Karzai did not attend) was held in Bonn, Germany to select a new leader. Those who attended the conference decided to install Karzai as the interim president of Afghanistan for six months. At the end of the six months, a loya jirga (traditional Afghan assembly) was called into session to decide who would govern the country for the following two years, until elections were held. Until that time, Karzai was charged with leading a 30-member Cabinet, which included two women and various rival warlords.

Karzai saw his main duty as fundraiser for the country, and he took on the job with great aplomb. He traveled to 15 countries over the next three months, enlisting commitments of $4.5 billion in foreign aid. He played a crucial role in keeping the world's eyes on Afghanistan. While some critics found him frivolous at times (fashion design chief Tom Ford of Gucci reacted to Karzai's stylish green silk cape and lamb's wool cap by calling him "the chic-est man on the planet today"), Karzai commanded great respect at such functions as President Bush's 2002 State of the Union address.

Held Power Shakily

Despite Karzai's world stature, many believed he would not last as president. "He is alone, doesn't represent a party, has no political base outside his tribe and is not widely known in Afghanistan," a Western diplomat told Newsweek's Babak Dehghanpisheh. "He has been superimposed ... from outside. He did not become the Afghan leader through military prowess and the traditional tribal system." In the New York Times a senior member of his government stated that, "Sometimes he is too optimistic. We think he should be stronger..."

There were other indications of continuing divisions within the country. On at least two occasions Karzai's palace guards opened fire on one another. His aviation minister, Abdul Rahman, was murdered by a mob at the Kabul airport on February 14, 2002. Political assassinations such as those of Afghan vice president Jaji Abdul Qadeer and minister of Public Works Haji Qadir seemed to occur with alarming frequency. In the north, local warlords General Dostum and General Muhammad continued to clash after Karzai took office.

With a devastating earthquake in March 2002, the country's needs were magnified. Nevertheless, Karzai remained focused on the upcoming loya jirga and looked forward to escorting the country's exiled King, Mohammed Zahir Shah, back as a symbol of unity. At the same time, Karzai appealed to expatriates to return to Afghanistan and help in rebuilding the country.

After being pressured by American diplomats, Shah, the former king, decided not to run for president and supported Karzai's candidacy for presidency in July 2002. But despite the Americans' political support, Karzai did not feel he could rely on them to look out for his country's best interests. When U.S. warplanes killed civilians in incidents that were attributed to wrong intelligence reports, Karzai told President George W. Bush that further attacks would make Afghans consider the United States an enemy rather than a friend.

Well aware of the challenges that lay ahead for him, Karzai admitted to his desire to stay in power beyond the six-month term. With his presidency re-affirmed by the loya jirga, he seemed aware of the reality of his situation. At his inauguration ceremony he spoke eloquently of the difficulties he faced, drawing tears from many Afghans as he noted, "The significance of this day in Afghan history will really depend on what happens in the future. If we deliver what we promise to the Afghan people, this will be a great day. If we don't deliver, we'll go to oblivion."

Feeling more in control, on January 18, 2004 Karzai issued a decree that required the release of all Afghans detained at the Sheberghan prison who were not considered dangerous; these included many former Taliban fighters. On March 28 subsequent elections, originally scheduled for June were postponed in order to allow greater opportunity for voter registration and to improve procedures and security for the elections. Karzai, who was the target of an assassination attempt in 2002 while visiting his hometown of Kandahar, returned there for the first time in April 2004. At that time he urged the populace to vote in the upcoming elections. On July 26 he announced his running mates in the upcoming popular elections, naming the country's Russian ambassador, Ahmad Zia Massood and the current vice president, Muhammad Karim Khalili.

On June 15, 2004 Karzai appeared before the U.S. Congress to request NATO allies to send more troops to Afghanistan to provide security for the scheduled elections. Days later he addressed the NATO summit in Istanbul and made the same request. He met with Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf on August 23, 2004, concerning Islamic fundamentalist terrorist operations along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Three weeks later, on September 16, 2004, a rocket was fired at Karzai's helicopter as it landed in Gardez, in southeastern Afghanistan. He escaped the apparent assassination attempt unharmed when the rocket missed its target.

The Afghani national election ultimately transpired on October 9, with Karzai declared the winner on November 3, 2004. Earlier, on July 4, 2004, he was honored with the Philadelphia Foundation Freedom Medal and accompanying $100,000 prize money. In accepting he indicated his intention to use the money to support orphaned Afghan children.

The conflict between Karzai's government and the Taliban continued throughout 2005 and 2006, with the Taliban issuing a fatwa calling for his assassination in December of 2005. Meanwhile, in 2006, Karzai became increasingly outspoken about asking for more aid for his country. That August, he accused the international community of failing to do enough to help Afghanistan fight the production of drugs, particularly opium, in the country. In September, on a visit to Washington, he asked the United States to send more help to his country. By then, one of Karzai's biggest foreign-policy challenges had become his deteriorating relations with Pakistan. Karzai often accused Pakistan of not doing enough to stop the Taliban from using Pakistan as a base for attacking Afghan government forces. He also protested Pakistan's plan to place land mines on its border with Afghanistan. A meeting between Karzai and Pakistani prime minister Shaukat Aziz in Kabul in January of 2007 resulted in an agreement on handling refugees but failed to resolve the other disputes, and Karzai acknowledged that the two countries were growing farther apart.

PERSONAL INFORMATION

Born December 24, c. 1955, in Kandahar, Afghanistan; son of Abdul Ahmad Karzai (a chief of Popalzoi clan); married Zenat (a doctor), 1999. Politics: Popolzai clan of Durrani tribe (ethnic Pashtuns). Religion: Muslim. Education: Baccalaureate degree, Habibia school, Kabul, Afghanistan; masters degree (Political Science), Himachal Paradesh University, Simla, India.

CAREER

From Pakistan, supported Mujahideen in Soviet-Afghan war, 1983-89; director of operations, Afghan National Liberation Front (ANLF), Peshawar, Pakistan, to 1985; director of ANLF Information and Political Departments, from 1987; director-general of foreign relations, Afghan interim government, Peshawar, c. 1987; deputy foreign minister Mujahedin government, 1992-94; supported Taliban, 1994; refused Taliban offer of United Nations ambassador post, 1996; established office for "Loya Jirga," council of elders, in Quetta, Pakistan, to spearhead resistance against Taliban, 1997; co-organizer of Afghan conference, Bonn, Germany, 1998; member of executive committee of exiled king Zahir Shah's Loya Jirga, Rome, 1999; testified before U.S. Senate, warning Americans of terrorist influence on Taliban and camps in Afghanistan, 2000; in tandem with United States-led bombing campaign against Taliban and al-Qaida forces, returned to Afghanistan to unite anti-Taliban opposition and gather intelligence, 2001; negotiated Taliban's surrender of Afghan strongholds, November-December 2001; named leader of interim government at Bonn conference, December 2001; honored guest at State of the Union address of U.S. President George W. Bush, January 2002; first freely elected President of Afghanistan, 2004--.

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