‘Mayor of Kabul’
Born in 1957 in the southeastern province of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai was one of eight children of the chief of one of Afghanistan’s most powerful tribes, the Popalzai. He was educated in Kabul and in Shimla, India.
Mr. Karzai joined the struggle against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and initially supported the Taliban in the early 1990s. He quickly grew disillusioned with the Taliban and began lobbying for Western support to help topple the hard-line regime that came to power in 1996.
In 2001, a U.S.-led coalition toppled the Taliban regime for sheltering al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks. The West then installed Mr. Karzai as the leader of Afghanistan, and his rule was ratified by the 2004 election.
But his influence was limited by a resurgent Taliban, and he received the moniker “mayor of Kabul.” He also was tainted by rampant corruption involving his family.
By 2009, Washington was so keen to oust Mr. Karzai that it tried to manipulate the election in a “clumsy and failed putsch,” former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in his memoir. Mr. Karzai faced Mr. Abdullah in a runoff vote. Mr. Abdullah, claiming rampant fraud, quit the race.
The George W. Bush and Obama administrations invested heavily in Mr. Karzai.
“They let Karzai boil it down to a personal relationship between the U.S. government and him. That was a mistake,” said Ms. Chayes. “There aren’t a lot of other countries where the entire institutional relationship with the population of that country boils down to a kind of psychodrama with one individual, which is the way the U.S. government has allowed it to devolve in Afghanistan.”
There is plenty of blame to go around for the state of the U.S.-Afghan relationship, and it is unfair to place all of that on Mr. Karzai, analysts and former U.S. officials say.
“Responsibility for the downturn in U.S.-Afghan relations in the latter years under President Karzai was not his alone,” said Karl Inderfurth, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“As Robert Gates accurately described in his memoir, ‘Duty’: ‘Many of his outbursts were provoked by our failure to heed concerns he voiced in private — and by internal politics in Afghanistan,’” said Mr. Inderfurth, who served as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs in the Clinton administration.
A mixed legacy
Mr. Karzai leaves office with a mixed legacy.
Although his frequent outbursts directed at the U.S. strained ties with Washington, it built his image as a tough, nationalist leader at home.