Eight years ago, Mahmoud Karzai was running a handful of modest restaurants in San Francisco, Boston and Baltimore. Today, Karzai, an immigrant waiter-turned-restaurant owner, is one of Afghanistan's most prosperous businessmen.
The older brother of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, Mahmoud Karzai has major interests in the country's only cement factory, its dominant bank, its most ambitious real estate development, its only Toyota distributorship and four coal mines. He and a business partner run Afghanistan's national Chamber of Commerce - which has far more clout than its American counterpart - allowing him to broker deals and lure foreign investors. For executives with problems with the government, he is the man to see. One prominent Afghan critic describes him as a "minister maker" with sway in hiring and firing top officials. An unabashed advocate for money-making, Karzai attributes his success to having big ambitions and taking on risky ventures. "I'm investing in projects that require real work," he said. "I'm in love with the idea that Afghanistan can become a Singapore, a Hong Kong."
Karzai's swift rise has stirred resentment and suspicion among many Afghans, who have grown disaffected with the Karzai government and its seeming tolerance for insider dealing, favor trading, bribe taking and other unsavory activities. Rampant corruption fuels the Taliban insurgency, experts warn, and threatens American support for President Karzai, who is seeking re-election this year.