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I could see he was crying. For a second the scene seemed to freeze, bodies teetering over the pit, all eyes trained on him. Then he dropped into the grave. He knelt to kiss his murdered brother, and the crowd closed in over him, breaking like water through a dam. People enveloped him in a tangle of interlocking limbs. He stayed down there, out of sight under the bodies, for what seemed like minutes, amid the keening moan of the crowd. Then the bodies parted and he rose from the ground, hoisted up and out of the grave by the men around him.

Among Pashtuns, he often added a turban. His costumes left a startling impression. “He looked like he’d just come off the Serengeti,” one Washington staffer recalled about the first time he saw Karzai move through the halls of Congress. ” Early on, Karzai had considered a more sober, business-suit attire, befitting his position as a leader in the modern world. But after the designer Tom Ford described him as “the chicest man on the planet,” his costume was set. He wanted to be seen, above all, as a man of his country.

It was true he couldn’t claim to have quelled the insurgency or established a humming civil service. Even in Kabul, the most modern, developed city in the country, only a third of the roughly five million residents received electricity, and that only sporadically; one in ten residents had access to the city’s water supply. And yet Karzai had considerable powers at his disposal. The position of president, atop the highly centralized government designed in part by the United States, came with considerable authority, and the courts and the squabbling parliament had not matured enough to check his authority.

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