In April—two weeks after the election to replace him and usher in the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan's history—Hamid Karzai sat down with Mujib Mashal for his "After Karzai" story in the July/August issue of The Atlantic. In his office at the presidential palace in Kabul, the Afghan leader reflected on how his vision of democracy conflicts with the West's, what it's like to be the pacifist president of a country at war, and whether power has changed him over the past 12 years.
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
When was the moment you felt most vulnerable physically? That your life was seriously in danger?
Mmm … seriously in danger physically. I cannot think of such a moment.
I ask that because when I speak to people who have worked closely with you, they say you have been a tremendous tactician—political tactician—but not a visionary. And I ask a two-pronged question: If a leader is not confident of physical survival, or political survival, can he afford to be a visionary and think long-term?