Karzai Takes Afghan Leadership Weeks after Running for Life

Published December 5th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Pashtun tribal elder Hamid Karzai was named cabinet chairman of an interim post-Taliban Afghanistan on Wednesday, a spectacular reward for his backing of US bombings in his homeland. 

Karzai will serve as chairman of an interim authority, a 29-member body that will govern Afghanistan for a six-month period, before a Loya Jirga -- or grand traditional assembly of elders -- in turn appoints an 18-month transitional government. 

Diplomats at the Afghan power-sharing talks in Germany said Karzai was chosen for the post after winning the key endorsement of the powerful Northern Alliance. 

Karzai, a former deputy foreign minister, possesses many of the credentials needed to satisfy the often diverse demands of the Afghan factions. 

As a southern-based Pashtun, he is acceptable in a way few Northern Alliance ethnic minority leaders would be. As a keen supporter of ex-king Mohammed Zahir Shah, he can hope for royalist support. And his record as an anti-Soviet combatant will serve him well with former mujahedin followers. 

But little over a month ago, Karzai's main concern was to save his life as Taliban troops closed in on him. 

Karzai had slipped into Afghanistan from exile in mid-October in a bid to stir up an anti-Taliban revolt and build support for Zahir Shah's return. When news leaked to the Islamic militia, they raided his hideout in Uruzgan province and set off in pursuit of the former minister. 

He was able to escape into Pakistan with help from American forces, according to US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- a claim denied by Karzai's family. He has since reappeared in southern Afghanistan and his forces have teamed up with former Kandahar governor Gul Agha to take on the Taliban in their remaining stronghold of Kandahar. 

A week before his escape from the Taliban, the militia had executed former mujahedin hero Abdul Haq for trying to create unrest among Pashtuns. Karzai was sure to have met the same fate had he been caught. 

He would have had few doubts about the Taliban's ruthlessness after the assassination of his father just two years earlier. 

The murder of Abdul Ahad Karzai in Quetta in 1999 sealed his second son Hamid's contempt for the Taliban.  

Gunmen shot the former Afghan parliamentary deputy after ambushing his car as he was driving around the streets of this southwestern Pakistan city where the family had lived since the early 1980s. 

No one claimed responsibility but Hamid Karzai was convinced that the Taliban were behind the killing and he has since been on a mission to rid Afghanistan of the militia and their "foreign terrorists". 

The killing also saw Karzai enshrined as head of the Popalzai clan, which has long wielded considerable influence in southern Afghanistan and been linked to the monarchy. Karzai's grandfather was a former president of the national council which operated during the reign of Zahir Shah until his ouster in 1973. 

Karzai, 44, was born in Kandahar. After being educated in Kabul, the fluent English-speaker went to university in Simla, India. 

But soon after graduating in 1982, he joined the struggle against the Soviets becoming director of operations of the Afghan National Liberation Front (ANLF). 

He spent much of the campaign in exile in Peshawar, northwestern Pakistan, but returned to Kabul in 1992 as deputy foreign minister after the fall of the Moscow-backed Najibullah regime. 

When the Taliban first rose to power, Karzai seemed prepared to work with the movement. He was even offered the chance to become the Taliban's envoy to the United Nations in 1996 but he declined, claiming that he had become convinced that the militia were agents of the Pakistani intelligence services. 

Since then he has been campaigning for the return of the king and the convening of a Loya Jirga -- a traditional grand assembly of elders -- AFP

© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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