Hamid is the son of Abdul Ahad Karzai, Khan of the Popolzai and kin to the exiled King. Despite a weak chin and a bald cranium, Hamid is considered charismatic. For an Afghan he is well traveled, speaks six languages, is a sharp dresser, and has relatives with Afghan restaurants across the United States. If he can stay alive long enough, he will be remembered as a father of his country.
Pashtun Khans are sort of a cross between feudal baron and rural landlord. When the communists took over they launched land reforms, stripping the Khans of their fields and distributing them to the former tenants. They assumed the peasants would be overjoyed, but Khans provided whatever social services existed and the government offered no replacement. As the Khan of the Popolzai, a tribe half a million strong, Abul Ahad Karzai was a prime target of the communist reforms. Many Khans fled to Pakistan when the communists took over. The Karzai’s went to Quetta where they aided the mujahideen as best they could.
Hamid’s father was assassinated by Mullah Omar in 1999, leaving Hamid the Popolzai Khan in exile. He worked to bring the Taliban down, making little progress before Osama attacked New York. The United States supported plans to send Abdul Haq and Hamid Karzai into Afghanistan to pry militia units away from the Taliban. Abdul Haq slipped into Afghanistan on horseback and was quickly captured and hanged as an example to others. Karzai got the message, but went in anyway. To improve his chances he rode a motorcycle and brought a team of Green Berets. His Popolzai militia proved no match for Mullah Omar’s men. The Green Berets saved him, but a bomb-targeting snafu nearly killed him anyway. Karzai may not be a gifted battlefield commander, but he is brave.
The United States chose Karzai as President of Afghanistan, but he still governs less of the country than Najibullah did in his day. He transformed himself from foreign puppet to legitimate president in three steps: He brought the old king back to visit from Italy, convened a traditional Loya Jirga or “gathering of elders,” and then held a national election. A quieter fourth measure is the slow buildup of an Afghan national army capable of tackling the warlords. With luck he might remove the warlords without a full blown civil war.