He seems ready to take on a role between chief power-broker and father of the nation

Kabul : When outgoing Afghan leader Hamid Karzai moves out of the presidential palace post-elections to take up residence next door, he will be relinquishing power but not influence, as he seeks an active public role in his “retirement” years, reports AFP.

Karzai is due to step down in the coming weeks after Sunday’s run-off election, paving the way for Afghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power.

The elections are meant to signal a fresh start for Afghanistan after the 13-year rule of Karzai dominated by the US-led military intervention that followed the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

Karzai’s relations with the US have collapsed, his regime is accused of massive corruption, and the country is still beset by the Taliban insurgency as NATO troops pull out and aid money declines.

But any prediction that the new president can turn the page decisively looks misplaced. “The truth is that President Karzai built up such a vast patronage network that he has to stay influential to keep his people happy,” said Bette Dam, a Dutch author who interviewed Karzai extensively for her forthcoming book on the president.

“He is looking for ways to continue (wielding) influence, and help his network of people to hold power. Many governors and government officials are in contact with him about how to achieve this.”

Karzai, then aged only 44, became a global star when he was selected to lead Afghanistan after the ousting of the repressive 1996-2001 Taliban regime.

Charismatic, fluent in English, and dressed in a colourful cape and lambskin hat, Karzai wowed world leaders and convinced the United States that he was the perfect partner to tackle Islamist militancy after the 9/11 attacks. But such sentiments evaporated as the insurgency raged on for a decade, casualties mounted, billions of aid dollars were spent to limited effect, and Karzai launched increasingly bitter criticism of the US intervention.

Now, after serving the maximum two terms, he seems ready to take on a role somewhere between chief power-broker and father of the nation. “The US and others always thought Karzai was ‘one of us’, and it is true that rather than a warlord, he is an English-speaking diplomat and a politician who can easily connect with the West,” said Dam, an expert on the Pashtun tribal structures behind Karzai’s influence. “But the way I got to know Karzai, he is more like a tribal leader with a lot of power deals to keep well maintained. He understands Westerners, but I wonder whether the West understands him and his tribal politics.”

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