Hamid Karzai, going for a second term
Urbane, stylish and charming, and without blood on his hands after decades of war, Karzai was handed the enormous task of leading Afghanistan in 2001 and now wants to rule again.Kabul -- It has been a tough seven years running embattled Afghanistan, but Hamid Karzai is going for another term and indications more than two months ahead of the vote are that he might get it.
Deal-making and shrewd manoeuvring that started long before the August 20 poll appear to have secured Karzai the backing of influential strongmen and groups that may see him trump his few real rivals in a field of 41.
This is even though the Afghan population is disillusioned by his failure to rein in corruption and a Taliban-led insurgency that was its deadliest last year, leaving around 2,200 civilians dead.
When he registered for the poll in May, Karzai said his leadership experience made him a good candidate for another term.
"We will be making mistakes again, like in the past, but our aim is to serve the Afghan nation," he said.
His choice for vice president of Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a former warlord accused of war crimes, dismayed the international community although it may bring the Pashtun leader some votes from the influential Tajik minority.
Leaders of the Uzbek and Hazara communities have also announced their backing for the incumbent while his opponents failed to form a strong coalition that might have been able to dislodge him.
Karzai was handed the enormous task of leading this crippled nation in December 2001 when the dust had barely settled on a US-led invasion that drove out the extremist Taliban regime for sheltering Al-Qaeda after 9/11.
Urbane, stylish and charming, and without blood on his hands after decades of war, he was appointed chairman of a Transitional Administration at UN-sponsored talks in Germany that pledged to help the country to democracy.
Six months later a traditional Afghan grand assembly of around 2,000 people, called a Loya Jirga, confirmed him as president of the transitional government.
It was a post sealed at Afghanistan's first-ever presidential election in 2004 when he took 55.4 percent of the vote, with his nearest rival managing only 16 percent.
But a countrywide poll of 1,500 Afghans released in February found that public confidence in the president had plunged from 83 percent in 2005 to 52 percent.
Approval for his government had dropped from 80 percent to 49 percent, according to the poll by three Western broadcast networks -- ABC News, the BBC and Germany's ARD.
During his campaign, Karzai will have to admit to his failures to win back some support, said Kabul University politics lecturer Nasrullah Stanikzai.
"I think Karzai may present solutions to some of his failures in the past seven years which include on counter-corruption, the rule of law, counternarcotics, the 'war on terrorism' and government building," he said.
Nonetheless, "Karzai still stands on the top of the list," he said.
Karzai was born in December 1957 in southern Afghanistan to an influential Pashtun tribe, the Popalzai.
He studied politics in India for six years, obtaining a masters degree in 1983.
The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, while he was at university, and on graduation he moved to Pakistan to join the resistance, rising through the political ranks.
With the Red Army defeated in 1989, Karzai returned to his homeland and took a position in the government of anti-Soviet factions formed in 1992.
But the factions soon turned on each other, dragging the country into civil war, and Karzai left again for Pakistan.
He briefly threw his weight behind the Taliban movement that emerged in the early 1990s but soon withdrew his support.
As president, Karzai has survived at least two assassination attempts, the latest in April last year.
He has a son, born in 2007, with his physician wife, Zenat Karzai.