Hamid Karzai

Karzai, Hamid (hämēdˈ kärzĪˈ) [key], 1957–, Afghan political leader, president of Afghanistan (2002–), b. Kandahar. Karzai's father and grandfather, who both served in the government of King Muhammad Zahir Shah, were heads of the Populzai, a powerful Pashtun clan, and his family fled Afghanistan (1979) after the Soviet invasion. Karzai studied (1979–83) at Himachal Univ., Shimla, India, then lived in Pakistan, where he supplied money and matériel for the fight against the Soviets in the Afghanistan War. After the Soviet withdrawal he returned home and served (1992–94) as deputy foreign minister under President Burhanuddin Rabbani. In the mid-1990s Karzai initially supported the newly ascendant Taliban, but soon turned against the fundamentalist group and refused (1996) a UN ambassadorship. He again joined relatives in exile in Pakistan. In 1999 his father was assassinated, allegedly by the Taliban, and Karzai became head of the Populzai. He supported American intervention in Afghanistan and when U.S. bombing began in 2001 returned home to organize Pashtun resistance to the Taliban. Later that year a UN-sponsored Afghan conference named Karzai, who had strong U.S. support, interim head of the new government. In 2002 a traditional Afghan council [loya jirga] convened by the former king elected Karzai president. He won (2004) Afghanistan's first democratic presidental election, but his victory was marred by voting irregularities. His government has been weak and hurt by corruption, dependent on foreign forces for support and with relatively little authority outside Kabul. In 2009, after an election marred by widespread fraud, he was declared reelected when his opponent withdrew in protest before the runoff vote. Karzai has been the target of several assassination attempts while in office, most recently in Apr., 2008.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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