President: Hamid Karzai
Hamid Karzai, who headed the interim government after Taleban were driven from power, won Afghanistan's first presidential elections in October 2004. He gained 55.4 per cent of the vote.
Born in the southern Afghan town of Kandahar in 1957, Hamid Karzai studied in India and France. Exiled in Pakistan for much of the Soviet occupation and during Taleban rule, Mr Karzai was selected as post-Taleban Afghanistan's interim leader in late 2001.
Mr Karzai, a Pashtun leader, is an effective player on the world stage and enjoys strong backing from the US. In 2002, he persuaded international donors to pledge $4bn to help rebuild his country. The president will serve a five-year term.
Afghanistan's leading players
Mohammad Zahir Shah : Mohammed Zahir Shah became the King of Afghanistan in 1933 when his father was assassinated. The grand old man, who was king for fourty years, lived in exile in Rome since a coup in 1973.
He was the last ruler of the 200-year Durrani dynasty, which established Pashtun control and fought British invaders. He returned to Afghanistan in 2002 after the Taleban were removed from power by US-led forces. Afghans say Zahir Shah has ambitions for his son and grandson rather than for himself.
Burhanuddin Rabbani: Rabbani, a Tajik from Badakshan province, was appointed Afghan president in 1992, six months after the communist government fell. He fled Kabul when the Taliban followers seized the city in 1996. Rabbani's Jamiat-e-Islami party had some of the best commanders during the Soviet war.
Abdul Haq: Haq became one of the best-known commanders in the Soviet war by staging spectacular rocket attacks on Kabul. Born in eastern Jalalabad near the Khyber Pass, he commanded rebels in the hills east of Kabul for the moderate party led by Maulvi Yunis Khalis. The burly and good-humoued Pashtun won important US support and was brought to Washington in the mid-1980s to meet President Ronald Reagan. He withdrew from the front after losing a leg in fighting.
Abdul Rashid Dostum: The leader of Afghanistan's Uzbek minority, Dostum, a general, rose through the ranks of the Afghan Army after the Soviets invaded in 1979, but has changed allegiances many times. He drove an armoured Cadillac and vowed he would not bow to a government that banned whiskey and music.
Osama bin Laden: The 44-year-old Saudi-born Muslim militant and multimillionaire honed his guerrilla skills in the 1980s while commanding Arab fighters funded by the CIA in the fight against the Soviets. The Al-Qaeda chief, now, tops the most wanted list in Bush administration, post 9/11.
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar: A Pashtun from Baghlan province, Hekmatyar and his hard-line Hizb-e-Islami party enjoyed solid backing from Pakistan during the Soviet war. But he often fought rival mujahideen groups rather than the Soviets. When the mujahideen drove the communists out in 1992, he refused to join Rabbani's government.