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Friday, 14 June, 2002, 14:00 GMT 15:00 UK
Hamid Karzai: Shrewd statesman
Hamid Karzai - new head of state
Karzai has been called an American stooge
News Online profiles the man elected to head Afghanistan's new transitional administration.
Hamid Karzai's brush with death in a failed assassination attempt is not the first time the Afghan leader's life has been in danger.

He had two narrow escapes last year after secretly crossing into Afghanistan from Pakistan during the US military campaign.

A powerful Pashtun leader from the Taleban's former stronghold of Kandahar, Mr Karzai has led the country's interim government since December 2001.

In June, he was endorsed as head of state by Afghanistan's loya jirga or grand council.
Ex-king Zahir Shah
Zahir Shah: Bitter arguments over the former king's role
In that time, the charismatic 44-year-old has carved out a high profile at home and abroad.

Mr Karzai swept onto the international stage in January at an international donor's conference in Tokyo, where he managed to persuade donors to pledge more than $4bn to help rebuild Afghanistan.

He than embarked on a tour of world capitals. Well educated, Westernised and stylish, Mr Karzai was feted by foreign governments and proved a shrewd statesman.

He even won praise from the Gucci fashion house for his trademark green-and-white chapan - traditional Uzbek coat - and ceremonial karakul hat.


Mr Karzai has managed to build up considerable support at home, partly a tribute to his diplomatic skills, but also because many ordinary Afghans are disillusioned with existing leaders and warlords.

As far as they are concerned, one of the major points in his favour is that he was not involved in the bloodletting in Afghanistan during the early 1990s.

woman walk past a war-ravaged building
Mr Karzai help secure international aid to rebuild the country
Correspondents say that as a royalist Pashtun from the south, he is acceptable in a way few Northern Alliance ethnic minority leaders would be. And, they say, his record as an anti-Soviet combatant serves him well with former mujahideen followers.

Mr Karzai is a member of the same clan as Afghanistan's former King Mohammed Zahir Shah, and has long retained his links with him.

He has long supported the former monarch's plans to build a broad-based government through the convening of a loya jirga.

Rescued by the US

He first began lobbying for support to hold the grand council meeting after slipping into Afghanistan from Pakistan - where his family has lived in exile for some years - last October.

At the time, US forces were carrying out military operations in Afghanistan.

When the news leaked to the Taleban that Mr Karzai was back in the country, they raided his hideout and set off in pursuit of him. He was rescued by US helicopters and special forces.

Afghans watch the live broadcast of the loya jirga
Mr Karzai is popular at home
He is said to have later played a key role in the helping oust the Taleban from their final stronghold of Kandahar last December.

By the time a United Nations-sponsored conference met to set up an interim government for Afghanistan, Mr Karzai had strong American backing and was clearly being groomed for leadership.

At the end of that conference in December, he was elected leader of Afghanistan's six-month interim government.

Struggle against the Soviets

Mr Karzai's critics have accused him of being an American stooge - particularly after the way in which the US intervened ahead of the recent loya jirga to announce that the former king would not oppose Mr Karzai as a candidate for head of state.

And the political horse-trading that went on ahead of this grand council meeting may have tarnished his image with some Afghans.

He faces great pressure to appear not to favour one faction over the other - nor to appear too beholden to the Americans, on whom now he relies for his own protection after the assassination of Vice President Haji Abdul Qadir.

Mr Karzai was born on 24 December 1957 in Kandahar. After being educated in Kabul, the fluent English speaker went to university in Simla, India.

In 1982, he joined the struggle against the Soviets and became director of operations of the Afghan National Liberation Front (ANLF).

When the Taleban erupted on to Afghanistan's political scene in the early 1990s, Mr Karzai initially supported them.

However, by late 1994 he had become suspicious of the movement, fearing it had been infiltrated and was controlled by foreigners, including Pakistanis and Arabs.

When his father - a former parliamentary deputy - was assassinated two years ago in the Pakistani city of Quetta, the murder was widely attributed to the Taleban.

The assassination also saw Mr Karzai enshrined as the head of the influential Popalzai clan with long links with Afghanistan's monarchy.


Political uncertainty






See also:

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