Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to speak at 2005 Commencement
By Brian Fitzgerald
He was a member of the Afghan resistance against the Soviet Union’s occupation of his country in the 1980s. He denounced the Taliban in the 1990s, recognizing that the fundamentalist Islamic militia was influenced by forces outside of Afghanistan and was gravitating toward extremism. And after 9/11, he worked diligently to bring about the collapse of the Taliban by encouraging popular uprisings against the regime.
Hamid Karzai, who last fall became the first democratically elected president in Afghanistan’s history, will deliver the main address at BU’s 132nd Commencement exercises on Sunday, May 22, at 11 a.m. at Nickerson Field. More than 20,000 people are expected to attend.
“President Karzai has been a shaping force in his country,” says BU President ad interim Aram Chobanian. “His exemplary leadership represents democracy at its finest, and we are honored that he will be joining us.”
Karzai was born in 1957 in the village of Karz, Kandahar. His father, Abdul Ahad Karzai, was a political leader and a prominent member and deputy speaker of the Afghan Parliament. After attending Habibia High School in Kabul, Karzai earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science and international relations in 1982 from Shimla University in India.
Throughout the 1980s, Karzai played a significant role in the Afghan resistance against the Soviet Union. He was appointed director of operations for southwest Afghanistan in the Afghan National Liberation Front (ANLF) in 1982, and upon completing journalism training in France three years later, he became ANLF director of information and subsequently director of its political department.
From 1992 to 1994, Karzai served as deputy foreign minister in the Afghan government formed after the Soviet withdrawal. When factional fighting intensified in the capital, he left Kabul for Kandahar and worked to free the province from warlords and factionalism. He later turned against the Taliban, which had taken over the government in the late 1990s and which he believes assassinated his father in 1999.
Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, Karzai worked with the United States to overthrow the Taliban and muster support for a new government. He devoted himself to the convening of the Loya Jirga, a traditional Afghan council, which would provide the Afghan people the right to choose their own government.
Since defeating 22 opponents in Afghanistan’s first-ever presidential election last fall, Karzai has been seeking to bring stability and prosperity to his war-torn country, slowly disarming local warlords and destabilizing their militias.
“Internationally, Karzai is very effective as a representative of Afghanistan,” says COM Associate Journalism Professor Nick Mills, who helped teach news-gathering to Afghan refugees in a BU-launched project during the Soviet occupation. “He’s educated and urbane, charismatic, and plainspoken. I think most nations are willing to support him and his efforts to rebuild the country.”
One of the most effective initiatives Karzai has undertaken in Afghanistan, Mills says, is a program in which groups of village elders are invited to the presidential palace for discussions. “Karzai listens, and explains what he and the government are doing, and the elders go back to their villages after having had the chance to speak directly with the president,” he says. “This has made ordinary people in all parts of the country feel they are part of the ‘new Afghanistan’ and that their opinions matter to the president.”
Afghan native Sirajulhaq Yasini (LAW’05), who is graduating with a master’s degree in banking and financial law, says that it will take time for Karzai to rebuild a country devastated by the decadelong war with the Soviet Union, the civil war following the Soviet pullout, and the rule of the Taliban. “We’ve been absent from the international community for more than 25 years,” he says. “But we’re coming back, and it’s a great honor to have Hamid Karzai speak at BU.”
At the general Commencement exercises, Karzai will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University.
Karzai is married to Zenet Karzai, an Afghan physician.