Faking It: Taliban Negotiator Was A Phony

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The secret peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban leaders took a giant step backwards Monday. Turns out, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, an alleged boss in the ranks of terror and the supposed key to negotiating a peaceful future, was a fake.

His impostor sham fooled the best. The man pretending to be Mr. Mansour was given diplomatic treatment for his role in the talks, including being flown on NATO aircraft from Pakistan to Kabul and escorted to the presidential palace for three meetings. A Western diplomat was quoted saying he also received “a lot of money.”

(See pictures of women in Afghanistan under Taliban threat.)

The jig was up when Afghan officials showed photographs of the fake insurgent to men who knew the real one after doubts of his identity arose during the third meeting with the man. Officials are unsure as to why the impostor – who turned out to be a shopkeeper from a small city in Pakistan – would attempt the masquerade. Speculators say it’s possible he was motivated by a large payout for defectors or  is a spy, either from the Pakistani Intelligence Agency (ISI) or working for Taliban intel.

His connection to the terror ring seems unlikely, though, since TIME’s Jason Motlagh reported that even though the outside world was waiting to see what happened in the peace talks, Taliban sources denied any dialogues were underway.

(See pictures of the battle for hearts and minds in Afghanistan.)

If the trickster’s on ISI payroll, it is another chapter in the double-sided game Pakistan often plays in counterterrorism. On one hand, the organization fights terror on their home turf – thanks in part to funds from the U.S. – but an episode like this could demonstrate their tendency to aid Afghan insurgencies as well.

But no matter who Mr. Not-Mansour was employed (or not employed) by, the incident highlights the challenges involved in Taliban peace negotiations and the war on terror. When even the guys in charge can be fooled by a fake, it doesn’t take an intelligence specialist to conclude that talks aren’t getting anywhere.

It’s probably not the first time peacemakers were duped by a faux terrorist, and won’t be the last. But as so often happens with bizarre situations like this, the parody came first. (via New York Times)