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NYT: Karzai in His Labyrinth

Author: Elizabeth Rubin, Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow 2008-2009
August 4, 2009

The Afghan president is isolated and distrusted, and even if he is re-elected this monththat's not likely to change.

On a sunny June morning in Kabul, I sat among hundreds of turbaned men from Afghanistan's Helmand and Kandahar provinces in a chandeliered wedding hall where they had gathered for a campaign rally to re-elect President Hamid Karzai. War was raging in Helmand and Kandahar. And yet there was an atmosphere of burlesque about the place. Waiters hammed up their service, skidding across the floor balancing mounds of rice, bananas and chicken, whirling shopping carts of Coke and Fanta. The organizer of the event and master of ceremonies was none other than Sher Muhammad Akhundzada, the five-foot-tall ex-governor of Helmand and probably the country's most infamous drug trafficker. From a velvet couch he barked out to the speakers: "Not so many poems! Keep your speeches short!"--but no one was listening.

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