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Saturday, 7 February 2009

Puppet finds himself hero no more

A foretaste of what would be in store for President Hamid Karzai after the election of a new American administration came last February, when Joseph Biden Jr., then a senator, sat down to a formal dinner at the palace during a visit here.

Between platters of lamb and rice, Biden and two other American senators questioned Karzai about corruption in his government, which, by many estimates, is among the worst in the world. Karzai assured Biden and the other senators that there was no corruption at all and that, in any case, it was not his fault.

The senators gaped in astonishment. After 45 minutes, Biden threw down his napkin and stood up.

"This dinner is over," Biden announced, according to one of the people in the room at the time. And the three senators walked out, long before the appointed time.

Today, of course, Biden is the vice president.

The world has changed for Karzai, and for Afghanistan, too. A White House favorite — a celebrity in flowing cape and dark gray fez — in each of the seven years that he has led this country since the fall of the Taliban, Karzai now finds himself not so favored at all. Not by Washington, and not by his own.

In the White House, President Barack Obama said he regarded Karzai as unreliable and ineffective. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said he presided over a "narco-state." The Americans making Afghan policy, worried that the war is being lost, are vowing to bypass Karzai and deal directly with the governors in the countryside. More