Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been leading efforts to negotiate a peaceful transfer of power with the Taliban, stepping out of the shadows even as his successor Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
Karzai, 63, was once the fresh face of the new Afghanistan after the US-led invasion that led to the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001.
Drawn out of relative obscurity, he was hailed as the modernizing force with tribal ties that could transform the war-torn nation.
As a fluent English speaker, tribal elder, and from a prominent Pashtun family, he seemed to have guaranteed influence.
However, he ultimately fell from grace in Washington and plunged into the political desert, with his former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani taking the reins in 2014.
Fast forward to August 2021: With the hardliners back in control, and with Ghani in the UAE, Karzai has been seen in a familiar role, moving from meeting to meeting, invariably seeking allies in what will likely be a small one. window to work. some kind of arrangement with his old enemy.
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When the Taliban entered Kabul on Sunday, Karzai appeared in a video shared widely on social media, with his daughters by his side asking them to help save Afghanistan together.
“I would like to inform the residents of Kabul that my family and I, my daughters, are here,” he said.
“I hope that the country’s problems will be resolved through talks and negotiations,” Karzai said, with the pragmatic tone for which he was known during his years in power.
He added: “I also call on all security forces and the Taliban, wherever they are, to protect people’s lives and property and focus on people’s safety.”
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Then on Wednesday, Karzai sat down with a Taliban delegation that included Anas Haqqani, the scion of the infamous Taliban faction that wreaked havoc with suicide bombings and brutal attacks in Kabul when he was president.
Things have come full circle.
Fallout with Washington
In December 2001, following the overthrow of the Taliban, Karzai was appointed chairman of a transitional administration at UN-sponsored talks in Bonn, Germany, which pledged to work for democracy.
Later, a traditional Afghan assembly confirmed him as president of the transitional government, paving the way for his leadership of the new republic.
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But the criticism soon overshadowed the initial applause for Karzai, and even earned him a Nobel Prize nomination.
Allegations of election fraud marred Afghanistan’s second presidential election with Karzai declared the winner of the vote after challenger Abdullah Abdullah dropped out of a runoff.
The election of Barack Obama and the departure of his former sponsor George W. Bush set the stage for a nasty showdown, as the United States launched a massive “wave” and deployed more than 100,000 troops to Afghanistan to deal with a growing Taliban threat. .
For years, Karzai warned that the heavy-handed counterinsurgency in the southern strongholds of the Taliban was only reviving the movement and instead asked Washington to focus its efforts on bringing Pakistan’s support to the militants’ leadership in the exile.
Even when insurgents bombed his capital, Karzai insisted that the Taliban must be incorporated, drawing harsh criticism when he called the militants “brothers.”
But their requests were largely ignored.
He eventually lost the support of the West, and was routinely criticized by American officials and the media for corruption, even as the United States dumped billions into an impoverished agrarian economy that was overwhelmed by the flood, causing the corruption was almost inevitable.
After finishing his second term, Karzai lost power to Ghani.
“If we are going to see a political solution, Hamid Karzai would have to play a key role in it,” Ibraheem Bahiss, a consultant at the International Crisis Group, told AFP.
“He is a unifying figure in many ways,” he added, highlighting Karzai’s reputation for uniting “disparate factions” during his presidency.