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Karzai: Exile Turned President


The man who has steered Afghanistan out of decades of civil war has been declared the first popularly elected president of the country. Hamid Karzai, who took 55 percent of the vote in October 9 elections, spent many years in exile before leading the interim government for the past three years.

Hamid Karzai was chosen to lead Afghanistan's transitional government soon after a U.S.-led alliance removed the Islamic Taleban from power in late 2001 for harboring international terrorists. The 46-year-old Afghan leader speaks several languages and comes from the country's largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns. Mr. Karzai has long supported efforts to establish a multi-ethnic government to solve Afghanistan's problems caused by three decades of war - including poverty, corruption and uncontrolled private militias.

Mr. Karzai says he has tried to address some of these problems during his three years in power.

"The greatest achievement of Afghanistan, of the Afghan people, has been the remarkable smoothness with which the political process went forward, that the political process delivered everything on time, and that the Afghan people participated fully in the political process," he said.

President Karzai comes from the powerful Popolzai tribe in southern Afghanistan, which helped run the nation for centuries, until the 1979 Soviet invasion forced them to take refuge in neighboring Pakistan. He was deputy foreign minister in the early 1990s, when Islamic parties ruled the country. Initially, he supported the fundamentalist Taleban, which took control of the country in the mid-1990s, in the hope it would end chaos and lawlessness. But within a few months he denounced the Taleban as being manipulated by Pakistan.

Mr. Karzai and his father Abdul Ahad Karzai began campaigning against the regime from exile in Pakistan. Suspected Taleban supporters killed the president's father. Soon after United States invasion to oust the Taleban in 2001, Mr. Karzai entered Afghanistan with the support of American troops to stir a revolt among Pashtuns in the southern Afghan provinces. U.S. backing helped Mr. Karzai win the support of the international community at a conference to create an interim government after the Taleban fell.

Three years later, Mr. Karzai says his policies have not only encouraged more than three million Afghan refugees to return home, but also have earned Afghanistan international respect and recognition. But he acknowledges his efforts to disarm private militias and tackle corruption have not met with success.

"The progress towards disarmament has been very slow," said Hamid Karzai. "We have not been able to remove militia forces from the country that keep harassing our people and Afghan people are really upset about that. We have not been able, so far, to handle corruption and probably that is something more difficult to do."

The presidential election was due in June, but security concerns, including an ongoing insurgency led by Taleban remnants, forced Mr. Karzai to delay the poll.