President of Afghanistan
Birthplace: Kandahar, Afghanistan
Karzai was elected president in Afghanistan's first popular elections on Oct. 9. He had been leading an interim Afghan government since Dec. 5, 2001. Karzai's enormous popularity in the West led to the infusion of both financial assistance and troops to the war-ravaged country. However, his grasp on power within the country remained somewhat tenuous, with warlords maintaining tight regional control. Indeed, he survived an assassination attempt in September 2002, which threatened the stability of an already volatile government.
Karzai, who attended college in India, speaks fluent English and enjoys strong support from the west. He has also been embraced by a broad spectrum of factions in Afghanistan, where ethnic and tribal identity dominates politics. An ethnic Pashtun from the city of Kandahar, Karzai is leader of the powerful 500,000-strong Populzai clan, which has supplied Afghanistan's kings since 1747. Karzai is also a close ally of the former king, Muhammad Zahir Shah. Even many Taliban supporters, most of whom were ethnic Pashtun centered in Kandahar, found Karzai preferable to Northern Alliance leaders who were ethnic Tajiks or Uzbeks.
During the fight against the Soviet invasion of the 1980s, Karzai provided money and arms to the mujahideen. He then served as deputy foreign minister in the post-Soviet government of Burhanuddin Rabbani, which was overthrown by the Taliban in 1996. At first a Taliban supporter, Karzai gradually came to oppose their rigid policies and distrust their connections to Pakistani intelligence and Arab Islamic radicals. When the Taliban asked Karzai to serve as ambassador to the United Nations, he refused. During the American-led campaign against the Taliban in the fall 2001, Karzai was instrumental in convincing a number of Pashtun tribes to end their support for the Taliban.