Reports surfaced this week in the New York Times and Washington Times indicating that one of the high-ranking Taliban officials said to be leading the Taliban side of the informal peace talks with the Afghan government and coalition forces, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, was instead a shopkeeper from the Pakistani city of Quetta (Dexter Filkins & Carlotta Gall, “Taliban Leader in Secret Talks Was an Imposter,” New York Times, 22 November 2010; Deb Riechmann & Kathy Gannon, “Taliban man involved in Afghan talks said to be imposter,” Washington Times, 23 November 2010).
The ruse was only discovered after months of talks and three alleged meetings–including one with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Coalition forces have admitted to being duped, and are trying to determine whether the imposture was a case of freelance fraud for profit, was linked to the Pakistani intelligence agency (ISI), or may have had some other motive. One possibility is that the man in question was in fact representing Mansour, who may not have trusted guarantees of his safe passage to the talks.
Peace talks with the Taliban remain central to hopes of eventually ending the war in Afghanistan, but the incident highlights one of the difficulties of conducting negotiations with a group (or set of groups) headed by a somewhat ill-defined leadership structure in the midst of an on-going insurgency.
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