Hamid Karzai was born 24 December 1957 in Karz, a village near Kandahar. His father, Abdul Ahad Karzai, was a senator in the Afghan parliament before the overthrow of King Mohammed Zahir Shah in 1973. Hamid Karzai has eight siblings, five of whom (four brothers and one sister) live in the United States where they run a chain of Afghan restaurants, Helmand (named after an Afghan province), with establishments in Chicago, Boston, Baltimore, and San Francisco. Karzai is a member of the Popolzai clan of southern Afghanistan; the Popolzai are one of the clans making up the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, the Pashtun. Throughout history, most of the country's leaders have been Pashtun; Karzai's family and the family of the former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, are both from the Popolzai clan.
After his early education was completed in Karz, Karzai attended secondary school in Kabul. In December 1979, the USSR invaded Afghanistan, beginning an occupation that would last until February 1989. The Karzai family fled the country, taking up a life in exile in Quetta, Pakistan. At age 24, Hamid left to study political science at the Himachal Pradesh University in Simla, India. Later (1985–86), he studied journalism in Lille, France, at Ecole Superieure de Journalism de Lille. As a student he was an enthusiastic participant in the Afghan national sport, buzkashi, a game similar to polo played on horseback by two teams.
Karzai and his wife, Zinat, a medical doctor, married when Karzai was over 40, considered fairly late for marriage by Afghan standards. Karzai's aptitude for languages—he is fluent in six languages including English—helps him in international relations, notably with the powerful United States and United Kingdom. He is a memorable figure, traveling in a striking costume that combines business attire with traditional ethnic garments, such as a lambskin cap and dramatic, colorful cape.