The latest and for some the last data from former President Hamid Karzai, who stepped down on Monday after 16 years in office. He left Afghanistan’s political and administrative machinery in disarray after he was banned from taking his seat in the Afghan parliament this year. A retired army general, Karzai is the son of an Afghan refugee who came to the U.S. as a child. During his term as president from 2004 to 2014, he battled corruption and insurgents, winning international praise and fueling grievances at home, where he clashed with figures in the Islamic clergy and parliament. His presidency was dogged by international concerns about security, particularly at the start of his time in office, when he boasted that suicide attacks only hurt his re-election chances, and crises of U.S. financial support for Afghanistan. This led to a standoff between Karzai and the U.S. that at times threatened to disrupt ties.
Karzai was born on May 13, 1963, in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. His family was born in the U.S. after his father fled Afghanistan after the partition of India in 1947. In 1961, Karzai’s parents left for Pakistan after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. His father, Mullah Mujibullah Karzai, was moved by President John F. Kennedy’s United Nations peace plan to settle in the U.S. shortly after Kennedy took office.
Karzai holds a master’s degree in economics and served as a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He first turned to politics in the mid-1980s to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He later switched sides when he began to realize that even his return home would not resolve the conflict.
Karzai did not officially become a politician until late 2005, when a spate of fighting in Kabul led to a huge upsurge in attacks by the Taliban. His former deputy, Dr. Mohammed Qasim Fahim, won the presidency in the interim period, and Karzai agreed to take over the government when the three-month election process ended in September 2006.
Karzai formally took office as the head of government on September 20, 2006, after securing the support of many leading warlords by promising to expand tribal power and put an end to “honor killings”. By the time he formally became head of state, around 1,500 NATO soldiers were dead in Afghanistan.
U.S. military attacks intensified during the 2008 presidential election campaign, ramping up after that year’s August elections as the U.S. demanded that Karzai participate in its policies. Karzai became politically more distrusted by lawmakers in 2012 as Karzai failed to develop a plan to deal with an escalating insurgency, and that year was forced to step down for an early election.
After failing to win re-election in 2014, Karzai distanced himself from international aid agencies and claimed that, under him, billions of dollars had been wasted.
He has stayed on in politics since the election of President Ashraf Ghani, though while he remains on Afghan passports there was some speculation that he would return to his former role as commander of the Afghan armed forces.