Afghanistan is facing a new period of political change after Hamid Karzai became the country’s first elected president. Now he has named his first cabinet since the October elections. BBC News profiles some of the most influential figures in the struggle to shape the country’s future.
Hamid Karzai, who was sworn in as Afghanistan’s first elected president in December 2004, is a powerful Pashtun leader from Kandahar.
A charismatic and stylish member of the influential Popolzai tribe, he has built up a considerable international profile, especially in the West and is backed by the United States.
But some at home view his closeness to America with suspicion and distrust.
He initially supported the Taleban but hardened against them after the assassination of his father, a former politician, for which the Taleban was widely blamed.
His main tasks remain trying to curb the power of warlords, fight drug-trafficking, press other countries to honour pledges of aid and build up Afghanistan’s own security forces.
A former education minister, Mr Qanuni is a leading figure in the Northern Alliance which helped the US overthrow the Taleban in 2001.
In the election he secured the backing of the powerful defence minister, Mohammad Fahim, who was dropped by Mr Karzai as his running mate.
He consequently secured a comfortable second place, but far behind Mr Karzai.
Mr Qanuni will hope to use the result to bolster his ethnic Tajik constituency.
However, Mr Karzai has dropped him from the cabinet in his December reshuffle.
GENERAL RASHID DOSTUM
The Uzbek general was one of the most high profile candidates to challenge President Karzai.
A former warlord based in northern Afghanistan, Dostum heads the Jombesh-e Melli Islami (National Islamic Movement), a predominantly Uzbek militia faction.
The veteran of many wars, he has displayed an uncanny ability to switch sides and stay on the right side of those in power.
Since the fall of the Taleban his forces have been involved in a bloody fight for territorial supremacy with another powerful northern commander, the Tajik general, Atta Mohammad.
As expected, he performed strongly in his ethnic base and poorly elsewhere in the October election.
A former Afghan president, Mr Rabbani remains an influential Tajik figure although he is not a frontline political player.
He heads the conservative Jamiat-e-Islami, which was the largest political party in the Northern Alliance that helped sweep the Taleban from power in 2001.
GENERAL MOHAMMED FAHIM
One of the most powerful men in the country, commanding thousands of men loyal to the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance.
He was widely expected to be named as one of President Karzai’s running mates in the presidential poll, but ended up backing the main challenger, fellow Tajik Yunis Qanuni.
He was head of intelligence of the Northern Alliance and replacement to General Ahmad Shah Masood, who was assassinated shortly before the 11 September attacks on the US.
Held the powerful post of defence minister in Mr Karzai’s interim administration, but has now been removed from the cabinet.
GENERAL ATTA MOHAMMAD
An arch rival of General Dostum, many believe it is Tajik General Atta’s appointment as governor of the northern Balkh province that has alienated the Uzbek strongman.
Their bitter history goes back to the days of the Soviet occupation, when they fought on opposite sides.
A former teacher, Atta briefly joined forces with Dostum to recapture Mazar-e-Sharif from the Taleban in 2001.
For now, he remains a key regional player in Afghanistan with considerable influence.
Planning minister in the interim Afghan government, Mr Mohaqiq performed well to finish third behind Mr Karzai and Mr Qanuni.
He did not keep his post in the new Karzai cabinet.
A member of the minority ethnic Hazara community, he hails from Mazar-e-Sharif and teamed up with General Dostum and Atta Mohammad to liberate the city from the Taleban in 2001.
He had considerable support among the Shia Hazaras, many of whom fought under his command.
GUL AGHA SHERZAI
Urban minister in the interim government, this powerful Pashtun leader was governor of Kandahar from 2001 to 2003, when President Karzai moved him to the federal cabinet.
Many believed the move was made to check Sherzai’s growing prominence as a rival centre of power in Karzai’s native Kandahar.
He is still believed to command considerable loyalty among the Pashtuns in an area where the Taleban is still very popular.
Within hours of the Northern Alliance taking Kabul in 2001, Sherzai led a force of men across the border from the Pakistani city of Quetta towards the city he ruled before the Taleban took power in 1994.
He was dropped from the cabinet in the December 2004 reshuffle.
The former governor of Herat is a powerful regional leader and President Karzai’s move to replace him in September was met with violent protests.
But he subsequently became energy minister in the reshuffle of late 2004, a cabinet appointment that had been rumoured for weeks.
Known as the Lion of Herat, he has often been accused of running the wealthy western province as his personal fiefdom.
Visitors describe Herat as clean, orderly, safe and liberal – all of which is credited to Ismail Khan.
But he is accused of failing to pass on millions of dollars raised as customs revenue to Kabul.
Ismail Khan is a veteran and legendary Tajik commander who liberated Herat from Soviet control, and became a thorn in the side of the Afghan communist government.
Threatened by the Taleban, he drove them back towards Kandahar, only to expose himself by overstretching his forces.
When the Taleban finally took over Herat he was handed over to the Taleban by General Pahlawan after a deal in 1997. He escaped three years later.
The only female candidate in the October presidential elections, Dr Jalal was the subject of much media attention.
A qualified paediatrician from Kabul, she was treating children when the Taleban came to power in 1996 and forbade women from work.
Ms Jalal made her presence felt when she challenged President Karzai in the first loya jirga (grand council) after the Taleban were ousted.
She was appointed minister for women’s affairs in December 2004.
ABDUL RASSOUL SAYYAF
A former mujahideen leader, Sayyaf was a member of the constitutional loya jirga held in 2002.
Leader of Islamic Union for the Liberation of Afghanistan, he was the only anti-Taleban Pashtun leader to be part of the Northern Alliance.
A hardliner, he is believed to have formed his party with Saudi backing.
A former professor of Islamic law Sayyaf was the neutral chairman of the first rebel alliance in 1980.
One of his close confidantes, Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai is a candidate for president.
Leader of the Hezb-e Islami, Hekmatyar is a warlord who is in hiding – evading American forces – and is believed to be somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
He is opposed to President Karzai and the US forces in Afghanistan and is blamed for carrying out several major attacks in the country.
Last year the US labelled him a terrorist.
Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami was the strongest force during the years of Soviet occupation.
This was largely because his party was the main benefactor of the seven official Mujahideen groups recognised by Pakistan and US intelligence agencies for the channelling of money and arms.
He later joined forces with General Dostum because he felt his power had been slighted by the Mujahideen administration which ran the country from 1992 to 1996.
His bombardment of the capital in 1994 is said to have resulted in the deaths of more than 25,000 civilians.
The frail and ailing former monarch of Afghanistan was deposed by his cousin Daoud during a visit to Europe in 1973.
He returned to his former country in 2002 after 30 years in exile.
As a Durrani Pashtun he has much support in the southern belt of Afghanistan and still very popular.
Many Afghans are said to be dismayed that there has been no role for him in post-Taleban Afghanistan.
The Taleban advocated the return of the king during their early days in 1994, but later reversed this position.
Some 10,000 soldiers drawn from more than 30 countries make up the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) which is in charge of security, mainly in the capital Kabul.
Around 11,000 US-led coalition forces are hunting for Taleban and al-Qaeda militants in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
They operate out of bases in Bagram, Kandahar, Gardez and a new base in Paktika province close to the Pakistan border.
Small units of military and civilian officers, known as provincial reconstruction teams, (PRTs) have also been deployed in a few places around the country.
Supporters and remnants of the former hardline Taleban regime are still active in many parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan.
Ousted in 2001, they vowed to disrupt the presidential elections but the polls were largely free of violence.
The Taleban are believed to have carried out numerous attacks on government forces, coalition forces, peacekeepers and aid workers over the past year.
They first came to power in 1994 under the leadership of a village clergyman, Mullah Omar, who lost a eye while fighting the Soviets.
Backed by Pakistan, they targeted the feuding warlords who had ousted the Soviets.
They swept to power promising to restore order and bring in a pure and highly conservative interpretation of Sharia or Islamic law.
But their authoritarian regime, with strict Islamic punishments and harsh treatment of women, pushed them out of favour both at home and abroad.
But it was their decision to host Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda members that brought them into direct conflict with the Americans and eventually led to their downfall.