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Hamid Karzai: A Profile

FRIDAY 14th February 2003
Hamid Karzai cuts an exotic dash in the world's corridors of power. Feted by western leaders from Washington to Downing Street, his is the face of post-Taleban Afghanistan.

Sartorial statesman

His appeal to the West is understandable. Impeccable in his dress, speech and manner, Karzai's elegance is universally admired. Gucci's Tom Ford calls him "the most chic man in the world", and his traditional karakul is fast becoming the latest thing in headwear.

His native roots, however, spread deep into the ground. Karzai revels in his identity of "Afghan and Pushtun both", a reference to the huge tribe that encompasses a large number of his country's citizens.

Born into privilege and politics, Karzai was part of the mujahideen resistance against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when he used his strong mediation skills to liaise with the CIA over weapons and aid.

The Soviets were finally driven out of Kabul in 1989, but Karzai became disenchanted with the corruption of the mujahideen. He supported, initially, the up and coming Taleban, whom he called "a group of good, honest people".

Personal mission

Disillusioned, in turn, though, by their growing extremism, Karzai moved to Pakistan to mount an opposition. His mission became a personal one in 1999 when his own father, former senator Abdul Ahmad, was assassinated on the way home from evening prayer.

The family always blamed the Taleban, and Karzai crossed the world, rallying support against them. The attacks on America of September 2001 meant his calls were answered.

Transitional phase

When the Taleban was toppled a year later, Karzai became a natural choice to lead Afghanistan through a transitional phase. But after the bloodshed of the past, the way ahead is by no means clear.

While the US shifts its focus to Iraq, Karzai must rebuild a nation crippled by tribal rivalry, and stymied by 23 years of war. He must fight for aid, but without an army to fortify policy, or provide his security.

Karzai's personal risk was highlighted in September 2002, when an assassin's bullet missed him by inches.

Nevertheless, many believe he represents the best, if not only, hope for a civilised government to rule his beleaguered nation. And although he may jump through western hoops to do it, for Hamid Karzai, there is only one mission, "to bring peace to Afghanistan".