Portraits of Afghanistan distil the rich and complex texture of social, economic and political life into a collection of neat, dyadic antagonisms: fundamentalism versus freedom; tribe versus nation; poppies versus development; and, of course, strongman versus state. Although noted for their participation in the jihad against the Soviets and then the Taliban, both Atta Mohammad Noor and Gul Agha Sherzai rose to unprecedented and unparalleled status as provincial governors during President Karzai's first term in office. Juma Khan Hamdard was a key commander in his own right but remained in the shadow of stronger warriors throughout his career. Meritocracy, the rule of law, free press, transparency and accountability were all casualties of their brand of governance, though it bears underscoring that they were hard to find in any province across the country. Thus, the inextricability of the personal and the political, the informal and the formal, was at the very heart of the logic driving modern state construction in Afghanistan.