The title of his lecture shows a certain cheek. Karzai’s seven years in power since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 have been notable for his failure to prevent their resurgence. Suppose the president’s motorcade this week had taken a different route and headed, not for the airport, but for the southern outskirts of Kabul, he would soon have experienced the limits of his government’s authority. It ends at a beleaguered police post within a few minutes’ drive of the capital. Drivers heading for the southern provincial capitals of Ghazni, Qalat and Kandahar nervously check their pockets to make sure that they are carrying no documents linking them to the government.
They do so because they know that they will not have travelled far down the road before they are stopped and their identity checked by black turbaned Taliban fighters. Moving swiftly on their motorcycles, squads of six to eight men set up temporary checkpoints along the road. Sometimes they even take a traveller’s mobile phone and redial numbers recently called. If the call is answered by a government ministry or, still worse, a foreigner, then the phone’s owner may be executed on the spot. The jibe that Mr Karzai is only “mayor of Kabul” has some truth to it.