Exit Hamid Karzai, Afghan Legend

A depiction of Hamid Karzai by Thierry Ehrmann. Sourced from Flickr, labelled for reuse.

A depiction of Hamid Karzai by Thierry Ehrmann. Sourced from Flickr, labelled for reuse.

When national unity is at stake, Afghans can be a forgiving bunch. Having criticized and regretted ex-President Hamid Karzai and his inner circle for the last thirteen years, many citizens had misty eyes as he formally left the domestic political scene.

Karzai — whose rule was famous for sky high corruption and political intrigue — stepped down as head of the Afghan government September 29 and handed his mandate over to President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, marking the first democratic transition of power in Afghanistan since the Taliban was overthrown in 2001. President Ghani was sworn in as the new president of Afghanistan with his rival Abdullah Abdullah ascending to the newly created role of Chief Executive.

Karzai addressing diplomats during his last days in office. Image taken from ARG official Facebook page (9/27/2014)

While the beginning of a new presidency after a bitter electoral contest between Ghani and Abdullah is a moment of extreme relief for society at large, feelings about Karzai's departure from the presidential palace were inevitably mixed. As Helena Malikyar, an Afghan historian noted, it was a “bitter-sweet day for most Afghans.”

Undoubtedly, Hamid Karzai will be missed by many. He was crafty and charismatic, blunt in his approach towards his western allies, and strangely suited to the art of governing a country in chaos.

Despite his mistakes, he will be remembered and respected. Hashmat Ghani, President Ghani's brother, tweeted:

In a TOLO News op-ed piece “Karzai's Imperfect Legacy”, journalist Mariam Awizha Hotaki wrote:

With all our faults, we are a democracy in the making. And we have to give president Karzai credit for that.

Janan Mosazai, the Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan, quoted Afghanistan's new leader Ashraf Ghani:

Ramin Anwari highlighted the fact that the former president will be missed for his good and bad sides.

Samira Hamidi's tweet contained a similar message:

Typically, Karzai managed to make Ghani's big moment all about him. Arif Ammar observed that people were more interested in Karzai leaving the Arg (palace and house of government) than Ghani entering it.

For all his flaws, Karzai's skill as a political operator was never in doubt: 

But Karzai's greatest gift to the Afghan people is his departure. Some believe that without him Afghanistan might never have seen a peaceful transition of power:

Sentiment was everywhere as Ghani took office: 

While Karzai's policies were the target of criticism both at home and abroad, his supporters such as Masood Shneezai believe that his thirteen years in charge have cemented his place in Afghan history forever.

Manoochehr Tahirian, referring to a book written by Bette Dam called A Man and a Motorcycle: How Hamid Karzai Came to Power could not hide his sadness:

Yet as Karzai departs the Arg, he has left Ghani and his unformed government many challenges to resolve: a stunted economy, poor security, an irascible Taliban and the unsigned Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States, to name a few. 

In his first address to the nation, Ghani asked the Afghan people to hold him accountable when he makes mistakes. He also emphasized:

politics will no longer be an instrument of instability, but of improvement.

That might be difficult for many Afghans to believe at the moment, but after months of tension following a disputed vote, democracy seems to be back on the agenda in the country. As for Karzai, few expect him to quietly and happily fade into history.

After all, a true Afghan politician never really retires. 


  • […] First Ladies in winning acknowledgement across a highly conservative society. Ghani's politically savvy predecessor, Hamid Karzai, hid his wife from the Afghan public throughout his thirteen years in […]

  • […] Global Voices covered the pre-election hype — stretching back to 2013 — as well as the post-election fallout. In September, after Ashraf Ghani was “miraculously” declared winner of the vote ahead of bitter rival Abdullah Abdullah, Afghans used the 2014 ice bucket challenge to ask the hotheaded pair to “be cool” as they negotiated a political settlement. Once tensions subsided somewhat and Abdullah and Ghani reached a deal to accommodate the former in the latter's government, Afghans were left waving goodbye to Karzai, the man that had dominated their domestic politics for thirteen years. It was emotional. […]

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