Hamid Karzai (hämēd´ kärzī´), 1957–, Afghan political leader, b. Kandahar. Karzai's father and grandfather, who both served in the government of King Muhammad Zahir Shah, were heads of the Populzai, a powerful Pashtun clan, and his family fled Afghanistan (1979) after the Soviet invasion. Karzai studied (1979–83) at Himachal Univ., Shimla, India, then lived in Pakistan, where he supplied money and matériel for the fight against the Soviets in the Afghanistan War. After the Soviet withdrawal he returned home and served (1992–94) as deputy foreign minister under President Burhanuddin Rabbani. In the mid-1990s Karzai initially supported the newly ascendant Taliban, but soon turned against the fundamentalist group and refused (1996) a UN ambassadorship. He again joined relatives in exile in Pakistan.
In 1999 his father was assassinated, allegedly by the Taliban, and Karzai became head of the Populzai. He supported American intervention in Afghanistan and when U.S. bombing began in 2001 returned home to organize Pashtun resistance to the Taliban. Later that year a UN-sponsored Afghan conference named Karzai, who had strong U.S. support, interim head of the new government. In 2002 a traditional Afghan council [loya jirga] convened by the former king elected Karzai president.
Karzai won (2004) Afghanistan's first democratic presidental election, but his victory was marred by voting irregularities. In 2009, after an election marred by widespread fraud, he was declared reelected when his opponent withdrew in protest before the runoff vote. Karzai's government was generally weak and hurt by corruption, and for much of his time in office he was dependent on foreign forces for support and had relatively little authority outside Kabul. He was the target of several assassination attempts while in office. Karzai stepped down as president in 2014, and was succeeded by Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.