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Karzai meets Obama: How will they shape a post-2014 Afghanistan?

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The killing was the latest in a surge of such attacks. During the past year, insider attacks killed 63 US and NATO troops, in 47 incidents.

'We have done so much'

"There is a Western point of view that we have done so much all this time, that we have tried so hard to build up this government, that it's still in such bad shape, that it must be impossible for it to roll on and continue to exist without our help," says Ms. Bijlert.

Yet, "the actual locally relevant governance and politics that went on was often not that visible to the foreigners here. This will probably continue," says Bijlert. Often classified as dysfunctional, that system "has defused a lot of the possible violence."

"The complexity of it might be uniquely Afghan. It's very much a personalized, patronage-based society.... Your relationships are the main capital you have, and also the greatest threat: Who is your friend and your enemy is the most important thing in life," adds Bijlert.

"And with all the turnovers over the decades, things have become ever more complicated, [leaving] you with layers of multiple loyalties," notes Bijlert. "Anyone who's anybody, politically or socially, even on the village level, has to engage in complicated, almost mathematical relational calculations all the time – that's what politics are made of here. Also, it's very brutal: It's easy to get killed or beaten up. So you're constantly engaging in actions to defuse that."

Much of that political dynamic bypassed US and NATO forces as they sought to stamp out an insurgency that leapt up after US forces and intelligence shifted attention in 2002 toward Iraq.

Dashed hopes

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