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But as the war in Iraq diverted U.S. resources, progress in Afghanistan slowed, allowing the Taliban to make a violent comeback.

Today, Afghanistan faces an insurgency that the U.S. and its NATO allies have yet to tame. The country produces 90 percent of the world’s heroin, and the central government is decried as one of the world’s most corrupt.

“Far too much was placed on Karzai’s shoulders in the early years. He was portrayed in the West as a miracle man who would solve everything,” said Joanna Nathan, an Afghanistan specialist at the International Crisis Group.

“Both he and his U.S. backers insisted on a highly centralized presidential system, and far too many eggs were placed in one basket. Now things are not going well, it has swung in the other direction where all blame is being placed on [Mr. Karzai’s] shoulders, which is not realistic either,” Miss Nathan said.

Seth Jones, a top military analyst who studies Afghanistan, said the country won’t be stabilized from the top “since the central government is far too weak.”

“This is the strategy that has largely been pursued over the last few years. Instead, stability requires bottom-up efforts in rural areas of the country,” said Mr. Jones, an analyst with Rand Corp. “This requires dealing with local tribal, religious and other figures, as well as district and provincial government institutions.”

A quarterly Pentagon report presented to Congress last month said Mr. Karzai heads “one of the weakest governments in the world.”

“It is hampered by pervasive corruption and a lack of sufficient leadership and human capital,” the report said.

Mr. Karzai is hitting back, blaming the downward slide on a lack of international coordination and terrorist havens in Pakistan.

He has increasingly been riding a populist wave by voicing discontent with the U.S. conduct in the war, particularly the number of civilian casualties. He has suggested that Afghanistan would seek new arms deals with Russia and has threatened to hold a referendum on rules that could constrain U.S. and NATO operations.

His spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, said the United States remains Afghanistan’s strategic partner.

“It’s only fair for partners in a changing situation and serious situations to expect more from each other. And that’s exactly what we are doing,” Mr. Hamidzada said. “We will sit down with our partners and find out how to work with each other.”

For Mr. Karzai, the killing of civilians, arrests of Afghans and house searches at the hands of U.S. troops must stop immediately, since they appear to be eroding his standing at home and dampening domestic support for the war.

He sent an 11-point plan to U.S. and NATO officials calling for greater Afghan involvement in operations, Afghan approval of where U.S. and NATO troops can be deployed, and an end to arrests and house searches by foreign troops.

“While we have … a tension between us on the question of civilian casualties, arrests of Afghans and home searches, the fundamentals of our relationship [are] strong, the partnership is strong and it will continue as a strong partnership toward the future,” Mr. Karzai said Tuesday.