When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to Kabul last week for Afghan President Hamid Karzai's inauguration, she sat in a palace hall that included some of the country's most influential warlords.
Along with Karzi vice presidents Mohammed Qasem Fahim and Karim Khalili, the honored guests included Abdul Rashid Dostum, who has been accused of committing war crimes and investigated for allegedly carrying out vigilante justice on the streets of Kabul.
As she flew to Kabul for Karzai's swearing-in ceremony, Clinton told reporters that the Afghan president's alliance with Dostum "certainly raises questions."
Sitting in the hall with Dostum was one thing.
Now, it turns out, Clinton came dangerously close to inadvertently taking part in a photo op with Dostum at the palace.
After Karzai was sworn-in and dignitaries were chatting in the palace hall, Dostum was among those shaking hands with visitors and making his way towards Clinton to say hello.
A picture of Clinton and Dostum shaking hands would have been an unacceptable PR fumble on a day when the Obama administration was sending out positive messages about Karzai and looking for ways to repair the strained relationships.
As Dostum closed in, according to one witness, US diplomat Richard Holbrooke made a move towards Clinton in an apparent attempt to warn her that she was about to shake hands with the notorious warlord.
After the inauguration, Clinton sought to draw distinctions between good warlords and bad warlords.
“There are warlords and there are warlords," Clinton said in an interview with Radio Azadi in Kabul.
"There are people who are called back who fought on behalf of the people of Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, who fought against al-Qaida and the Taliban and their allies," Clinton said."And there are people who had very serious breaches of human rights and mistreatment of people during war, which is always difficult to look back on and figure out how to judge."
Dostum held a key military post in Karzai's last government. But few people in Kabul expect him to be given a prominent role in the next cabinet. Instead, Dostum allies are more likely to be rewarded with political posts as Karzai creates his new team.