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By the end of his tenure as ambassador, he’d visited every one of the country’s provinces. He’d escaped mortar rounds in Nurestan, rockets in Wardak, and a grenade that landed within a hundred yards of him at a peace conference in Kabul. He seemed to hold genuine affection for Afghanistan. During his travels in the country, he would stop teachers, street vendors, and peasant farmers to query them about their thoughts and criticisms about their government, their views on the American presence, their aspirations.

His angling against President Karzai also veered into the wider family. Before the vote, Holbrooke tried to persuade both Eikenberry and McChrystal that Ahmed Wali Karzai should be dropped from the payroll of the CIA, which had been his patron for the duration of the war. What was left unsaid by Holbrooke was that casting out Ahmed Wali would debilitate President Karzai in the Pashtun south. And even though such proposals would die, Holbrooke’s maneuvers would invariably trickle back to the palace, where Karzai would dutifully catalog them in his overflowing file of grievances.

They wore turbans and blazers and sandals and wristwatches that glinted in the sunlight, row after unsmiling row. The procession swept by and through us and we fell in among them, following the surging crowd through the village until we came to a grove of eucalyptus trees ringed by a white metal fence topped with arrow-shaped spikes that surrounded the Karzai family cemetery. We entered through the gate. Across the cemetery grounds, dozens of humble headstones marked the graves of lesser Karzais.

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