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By Joshua Partlow

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Karzai told Brahimi, “Your Excellency, you are always worried about problems, and I like that about you. ” The early Karzai wasn’t yet burdened with the drudgery of building government institutions or the tragedies inherent in losing a guerrilla war. Heads of state from around the world would visit him in his palace, and they would sit as equals. To the Americans, Karzai would reminisce fondly about visiting his brothers in Maryland, about how he liked Starbucks coffee and country music. He found Thanksgiving a splendid holiday and believed that if they could just find some way to export Afghan pomegranates en masse, they would make a fine complement.

He had ridden a miraculous wave of luck and circumstance into the presidential palace after holding only one government job, a one-year stint a decade earlier as deputy foreign minister that had ended with his arrest, torture, and escape into exile. He was not brave in battle, like Afghanistan’s other bearded and berobed leaders. He commanded no militia following and had grown up in Kandahar leafing through Time magazine, playing Ping-Pong on the dining room table, and riding a horse named Almond Blossom.

People were wailing and crying. Security guards in black bulletproof vests with curly cords tucked behind their ears tried in vain to keep control, screaming and shoving people back from the lip. S. military Black Hawk helicopter touched down in a plume of dust. The president had arrived. Hamid Karzai, looking wan, pushed through the tangle of bodies and stood at the edge of the grave. He wore a simple white tunic and a dark vest. He looked down into the hole and said nothing. I could see he was crying.

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