Page last updated at 10:04 GMT, Thursday, 20 November 2008

Key Afghan players: Who's who

BBC News profiles some of the most influential figures in the struggle to shape Afghanistan's future.

Hamid Karzai

Hamid Karzai, who was sworn in as Afghanistan's first elected president in December 2004, is a moderate Pashtun leader from Kandahar.

A charismatic and stylish member of the influential Popolzai tribe, he has built up a considerable international profile, especially in the West and is backed by the United States.

But some at home view his closeness to America with suspicion and distrust.

He initially supported the Taleban but hardened against them after the assassination of his father, a former politician, for which the Taleban was widely blamed.

His main task has been trying to bring stability to the country which is racked by violence and poverty. Foreign and Afghan troops are battling anti-government forces led by the Taleban. Violence has soared in recent years and is back to levels not seen since the Taleban were driven from power in 2001.

Mr Karzai's other challenges include fighting drug-trafficking, securing international aid, building up Afghanistan's own security forces and reconciling Afghanistan's committment to international law with conservative interpretations of Islamic Sharia law.

Yunus Qanuni

A former minister, Mr Qanuni is now the Speaker of the Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of parliament.

Seen by some as the most serious contender to Mr Karzai, he stood against him in the presidential elections of 2004.

A key figure in the Northern Alliance in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Taleban, Mr Qanuni first held the powerful post of interior minister but later moved to the education ministry.

Differences with President Karzai led to his resignation from the cabinet, following which he formed his own political party, Afghanistan-e-Naween.

Though unable to hold together a political alliance which could provide a formidable challenge to the Karzai government, Mr Qanuni has been too powerful to be completely marginalised.

Sibghatullah Mojaddedi

A former mujahideen leader, Mr Mojadidi is the Speaker of the upper house of parliament, the Meshrano Jirga.

He has played an important and influential part since the fall of the Taleban.

He was made chairman of the constitutional Loya Jirga in 2003, a delicate process which involved reconciling the interests of Afghanistan's different ethnic groups.

Since March 2005, he has headed Afghanistan's National Peace Commission, the body for implementing the process of national reconciliation through the surrender and absorption of former Taleban members.

Abdul Rashid Dostum

The Uzbek general who was one of the most powerful warlords with an independent military base in the north remains a powerful figure in the country.

Mr Dostum still heads the Junbesh-e Melli Islami (National Islamic Movement), a predominantly Uzbek militia faction.

He was one of the most high-profile candidates to challenge Mr Karzai in the presidential elections in October 2004.

A veteran of many wars, he has displayed an uncanny ability to switch sides and stay on the right side of those in power.

In the 1980s Gen Dostum backed the invading forces of the Soviet Union against the mujahideen rebels. He then played a prominent role in the civil war that destroyed much of the capital, Kabul, and left thousands dead.

In 2001, while helping the United States, his militias were accused of suffocating hundreds of Taleban prisoners to death by locking them inside shipping containers.

A contender for the post of defence minister after the removal of Gen Mohammed Fahim, Dostum has however had to be satisfied with the post of chief-of-staff, a largely titular role.

However the appointment was also evidence of his power as Karzai was criticised severely for the appointment which many saw as a reversal of his earlier promise to curb warlords.

Burhannudin Rabbani

A former Afghan president, Mr Rabbani was elected as an MP from Badakshan in 2005 parliamentary elections.

He remains an influential Tajik figure although he is not a frontline political player.

He heads the conservative Jamiat-e-Islami, which was the largest political party in the Northern Alliance that helped sweep the Taleban from power in 2001.

Mohammed Fahim

The former defence minister used to be one of the most powerful men in the country but has been sidelined.

He lost his place in the cabinet and is now a member of the upper house.

Gen Fahim commanded thousands of men loyal to the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance that helped topple the Taleban in late 2001.

He was widely expected to be named as one of President Karzai's running mates in the 2004 presidential poll, but ended up backing the main challenger, fellow Tajik Yunus Qanuni.

He was head of intelligence of the Northern Alliance and succeeded General Ahmad Shah Masood, who was assassinated shortly before the 11 September attacks on the US.

Atta Mohammed

An arch rival of Gen Dostum, Atta Mohammad is the governor of the northern province of Balkh.

Their bitter history goes back to the days of the Soviet occupation, when they fought on opposite sides.

A former teacher, Gen Atta briefly joined forces with Gen Dostum to recapture Mazar-e-Sharif from the Taleban in 2001.

For now, he remains a key regional player in Afghanistan with considerable influence.

His appointment as governor of Balkh was viewed as a move to curb Gen Dostum.

Mohammed Mohaqiq

A member of the minority ethnic Hazara community, Mohammed Mohaqiq was elected as an MP in the 2005 elections.

He comes from Mazar-e-Sharif and teamed up with Gen Dostum and Atta Mohammad to free the city from the Taleban in 2001.

The head and founder of the Wahdat-e-Mardum political party, he had considerable support among the Shia Hazaras, many of whom fought under his command.

Planning minister in the interim Afghan government, Mr Mohaqiq performed well to finish third behind Mr Karzai and Mr Qanuni in the presidential election in 2004.

He did not keep his post in the new Karzai cabinet after the 2005 parliamentary elections.

Gul Agha Sherzai

Nangarhar province Governor Gul Agha Sherzai commands considerable loyalty among the Pashtuns in Kandahar, the city he controlled before the Taleban took power in 1994.

Within hours of the Northern Alliance taking control of Kabul in 2001, Sherzai entered and took control of the southern city.

In December 2004, he was appointed as governor of Kandahar with an added, though symbolic, portfolio of minister adviser to Mr Karzai.

His reappointment became controversial and human rights groups have accused Mr Sherzai of involvement in the drugs trade.

Mr Sherzai was made governor of Nangarhar as part of a series of reshuffles viewed as an attempt to curb the power of the warlords.

Ismail Khan

Herat's former governor retained his post as energy minister in the 2006 reshuffle.

Known as the Lion of Herat, Ismail Khan is a veteran and legendary Tajik commander who freed Herat from Soviet control, and became a thorn in the side of the Afghan communist government.

Controlling the trade route from Iran, he turned the city of Herat into one of the most developed cities in the country soon after taking control of the area after the fall of the Taleban.

It was his independent power base and apparent refusal to join hands with the Karzai government that led to his eventual removal and reappointment as energy minister in September 2004.

President Karzai's move to replace him was met with violent protests from his supporters.

Ismail Khan remains a powerful figure, although with considerably reduced influence.

Massouda Jalal

The only female candidate in the October 2003 presidential elections, Dr Jalal was the subject of much media attention.

A qualified paediatrician from Kabul, she was treating children when the Taleban came to power in 1996 and stopped women from working.

Ms Jalal made her presence felt when she challenged President Karzai in the first loya jirga (grand council) after the Taleban were ousted.

She was appointed minister for women's affairs in December 2004, but was dropped in the reshuffle of April 2006.

Many analysts believe Dr Jalal's appointment has encouraged other women to participate in the process.

Shahnawaz Tanai

A former communist general, Shahnawaz Tanai, 54, now heads the Afghan Peace Movement party.

He was Afghan chief of staff and then defence minister during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

Gen Tanai led a coup in 1990, with the renegade mujahideen commander, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, against the then president Najibullah.

The coup failed and Gen Tanai fled to Pakistan where he lived in exile until August 2005, when he returned to form the Afghanistan Peace Movement party.


A former communist general, Mr Gulabzoi is now an MP.

Gen Gulabzoi was one of the key members of the Khalq faction of the communist party, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), and took part in the overthrow of King Muhammad Zahir Shah in 1973.

He was seen as a close aide of the communist leader, Nur Muhammad Taraki, and he served as interior minister for many years during the Soviet occupation.

After 17 years in exile in Russia he returned to run in the parliamentary elections and won a seat.

Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf

A former mujahideen leader, Mr Sayyaf is now an elected member of parliament.

Leader of the Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan, he was the only anti-Taleban Pashtun leader to be part of the Northern Alliance.

A hardliner, he is believed to have formed his party with Saudi backing.

A former professor of Islamic law, Mr Sayyaf was the chairman of the first rebel alliance in 1980.

He was a member of the constitutional loya jirga of 2003.

Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf was a major player in the civil war in 1992, which left vast areas of the capital, Kabul, in ruins.

Wahil Ahmad Mutawakil

Mr Mutawakil, the former foreign minister of the Taleban, failed to win a seat in the 2005 elections.

He had surrendered to the authorities in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan in February 2002.

Before becoming the Taleban foreign minister in 1999, Mr Mutawakil had served as a spokesman and personal secretary to Taleban leader, Mullah Omar.

Mr Mutawakil is the most senior Taleban figure to have been arrested by the Americans.

He was held for three years, first by the Americans and then under house arrest in Kabul.

Mr Mutawakil has always been described as the more respectable face of the Taleban.

It was reported that Mr Mutawakil led a group of moderate Taleban who wanted Osama Bin Laden to leave Afghanistan to avoid US reprisals against the regime.

After his release, Mr Mutawakil said he approved of girls' education, so long as it was in keeping with Afghan culture.

He is now involved in moves to bring back moderate Taleban figures into the government fold.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

Leader of the Hezb-e Islami faction, Mr Hekmatyar is a warlord who is in hiding - evading American forces - and is believed to be somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

He is opposed to President Karzai and the presence of US-led foreign forces in Afghanistan and is blamed for carrying out several major attacks in the country.

The US labelled him a terrorist in 2003. Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami was the strongest force during the years of Soviet occupation.

This was largely because his party was the main benefactor of the seven official mujahideen groups recognised by Pakistan and US intelligence agencies for the channelling of money and arms.

He later joined forces with General Dostum because he felt his power had been slighted by the mujahideen administration which ran the country from 1992 to 1996.

The fighting between him and Kabul's administration at the time, controlled by the murdered Afghan commander, Ahmad Shah Masood, is said to have resulted in the deaths of more than 25,000 civilians.

The faction of his party which broke away to participate in the electoral process garnered the largest number of seats.

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