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By Joshua Partlow

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In battles with American officials, Karzai was already a scarred veteran. S. military should pursue al-Qaeda and the Taliban there, rather than in Afghanistan. The United States needed to send Pakistan an ultimatum to stop “using Islamic radicalism as an instrument of policy,” Karzai had told Obama, then a senator, over lunch in Kabul in July 2008. S. officials also disagreed on whom Karzai should appoint as governors—the American government believed some of them were drug traffickers. -run jails—all the political battles to come had already, to one degree or another, been fought.

So it was not so much the combat that defined, for me, the war in Afghanistan, but these political struggles: to remake an ancient tribal society into a modern democratic country, to constrain the very people the United States endowed with immense power and money, to relate and find common ground in a culture with deeply different customs and beliefs than those of the American soldiers fighting on its behalf. The Karzais stood at the center of all these struggles, and in their personal rivalries and political lives I found a way to understand the war and why we could not win it.

As part of the palace welcoming committee, Karzai also employed a giant, a seven-foot-tall Afghan man who palace staff chose to believe was the tallest man in the world. ” The giant napped on the floor, because the Afghans could not find a bed to fit him. General McChrystal once bought him two pairs of size 17 shoes, earning his gratitude to America. There were also, apparently, three midgets wandering around, and though I never saw them, one former British ambassador insisted they lived in a tree.

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