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Is He For Real?
November 23, 2010 6:56 AM   Subscribe

Is it wise to negotiate with the Taliban? Probably not without first checking credentials. Apparently the "Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour," very senior commander in the Taliban movement, who has been engaged in talks to end the Afghanistan war, is no such person. Whoever he was, and whoever sent him, he also walked away with "a lot of money." (SLNYT)
posted by bearwife (56 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
more tanks would have helped
posted by facetious at 6:58 AM on November 23, 2010 [10 favorites]


It would also be wise to check credentials before handing someone "a lot of money", Taliban or not.
posted by DU at 7:04 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

Except for the locals whose houses are flattened and faces stove in.

For them it's just tragedy, again and again.
posted by notyou at 7:07 AM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Man, after reading The Lies Of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies, I was all pissed that the third book isn't coming out until February. This Mansour story is great for tiding me over until then.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:12 AM on November 23, 2010


Remind anybody of the "Mayor of Baghdad"?
posted by warbaby at 7:17 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are a couple hundred people in dog kennels in Cuba right now who can sort of attest that the U.S. Government not really giving a shit about fact-checking whether or not someone's actually a member of the Taliban isn't exactly a new thing.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:17 AM on November 23, 2010 [42 favorites]


How can turning over the country to drug-running warlords have gone so horribly wrong?
posted by Legomancer at 7:18 AM on November 23, 2010 [14 favorites]


I make it a personal policy to allow myself to give up on some ambitious thing after a certain number of concurrent failures.
posted by AugieAugustus at 7:21 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are we finally done with the CIA? Do they do anything besides ruin our international reputation and drain our treasury?

I guess my old friend in the Rangers (RIP buddy) called them "boys with toys" for a good reason.
posted by notion at 7:21 AM on November 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Do we go ahead with negotiations by handing out baskets of money instead of getting a deal, an understanding of some sort, and then, perhaps, helping our potential new ally?
Why do we always assume that we can buy what we want? A zillion dollar reward has still not brought in Osama B. L.
posted by Postroad at 7:28 AM on November 23, 2010


I read about this this morning, and the first thing was "did nobody even bother to check?"
Also, there is no indication that the CIA was in on this at all; it was a NATO thing.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:32 AM on November 23, 2010


Others suspect that the fake Taliban leader, whose identity is not known, may have been dispatched by the Pakistani intelligence service, known by its initials, the ISI. Elements within the ISI have long played a “double-game” in Afghanistan, reassuring United States officials that they are pursuing the Taliban while at the same time providing support for the insurgents.

What's more, this is common knowledge and has been for years.

Can someone tell me why we continue to give Pakistan billions of dollars (last I saw the number was at $18bn,) and weapons? Has there been a measurable improvement in our security as a result?
posted by zarq at 7:32 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


How can turning over the country to drug-running warlords have gone so horribly wrong?

What would a viable alternative have looked like? Colonize?
posted by zarq at 7:34 AM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, the annual US intelligence budget is $80 billion. Nicely done.
posted by lullaby at 7:34 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Can someone tell me why we continue to give Pakistan billions of dollars (last I saw the number was at $18bn,) and weapons? Has there been a measurable improvement in our security as a result?

They have nukes that everyone in Washington is paranoid about, mostly.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:40 AM on November 23, 2010


I would like to take this opportunity to announce to the intelligence community that I am a member of the ruling party in the DPRK, and I am willing to negotiate a detente with the West. I will, however, require a small show of good faith, say...$12 million up front, non-sequential, unmarked bills?

I look forward to working with the international community.

PS: I can go as low as $10 million.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:45 AM on November 23, 2010 [10 favorites]


Mullah Mansour's spokesperson, Rufus T. Firefly, was unavailable for comment.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:46 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


straight out of the fucking Onion
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 7:48 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


"American officials say they were skeptical from the start about the identity of the man"

sure you were! 'Duhr, I knew all along. I was just testing you!"
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 7:49 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


We do not negotiate with terrorists.
posted by milkrate at 7:50 AM on November 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


> We do not negotiate with terrorists.

I know this is a joke, but the Taliban are very much a different animal than Al Qaeda. There is a symbiotic relationship between the two, of course, but in essence they each want different things. The Taliban have definable goals that are regional in scope and, for lack of a better term, "practical". They want a government that is in accordance with their ideas of what Sharia is and they want control of resources. Al Qaeda want to topple infidel governments, foment discord, cause mayhem, and ultimately try to resurrect the Caliphate. This is not at all reasonable, so there's no real ground to negotiate on.

We should've extended a hand to the Taliban years ago. They're not going away, and the sooner they are nominally in the sphere of NATO influence the sooner they will be less an attractive haven for Al Qaeda. Yes, their human rights record is atrocious, and there's no evidence they will change on their own. But by and large their leaders are not interested in bringing down the West or other such nonsense and can indeed be reasoned with and mitigated.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:55 AM on November 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


The CIA is supposed to provide intelligence to all US agencies, most especially diplomats. If they weren't entirely useless, either because of ineptness or the total ruin of their ability to gather intelligence after they started to murder people in secret prisons, they would have very quickly exposed this guy.

But the CIA can't gather intelligence effectively. They all think they are Jack Bauer. It wasn't too long ago that they failed to vet an informant, or even check him for weapons, leading to the deaths of seven agents. This is despite warnings from Jordanian intelligence officials.

The CIA has been rendered completely ineffective by their own incompetence. They are no longer the good guys, thus they can't get any locals to work for them, except with loads of cash, which are often swindled and then used to fund the forces they are trying to neutralize.

Principles are what attract loyalty, not money. On a philosophical level, though, it's easy to see why an American intelligence community would be totally unaware of this fact.
posted by notion at 7:56 AM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Let me guess: in this thread, we will talk about how stupid it is to take a stranger at their word and not be skeptical, even though over here we'll say the opposite.
posted by paisley henosis at 8:01 AM on November 23, 2010


"Yeah, cease-fire, sure, that's the ticket!"
posted by Bromius at 8:06 AM on November 23, 2010


Paisley: come on, bro or brodette. One is claiming to represent the Taliban in exchange for loads of cash. The other is a blogger claiming to be an educated sex worker.

I agree that both cases are stupid, but they are vastly different. For starters, one is in Afghanistan.
posted by notion at 8:11 AM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Let me guess: in this thread, we will talk about how stupid it is to take a stranger at their word and not be skeptical, even though over here we'll say the opposite.

We always seem to know so much better than people in unfortunate situations.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:13 AM on November 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Burhanistan: check out the Reza Aslan talks on dealing with the Islamic world. I think he's right that there are two different camps: one are super crazy religious people who think they are literally fighting a cosmic battle for good and evil, and the other are some rational actors who have a self-interest in forming a sovereign state and can therefore be negotiated with.

The Taliban are horrible people, but you're going to have better luck luring them into gender equality through diplomatic pressure than with predator drones.
posted by notion at 8:16 AM on November 23, 2010


Can someone tell me why we continue to give Pakistan billions of dollars (last I saw the number was at $18bn,) and weapons?

Because Pakistan is a couple of wrong turns away from being the world's first nuclear-armed failed state, with known radicals and supporters of radicals hell bent on the annihilation of India (especially) and/or NATO forces in Afghanistan (less so) in the senior ranks of its security apparatus and its military. Because without foreign support it would be much, much easier than it already is for terrorist orgs to operate at will out of the largely ungoverned portions of Pakistan, and they would potentially have sympathizers with access to nuclear launch codes.

Because there is a much stronger tradition and much more institutional knowledge of and popular support for democracy within the other parts of Pakistan than there ever has been in, for example, Afghanistan.

Because a nuanced foreign policy recognizes the difference between monoliths (viz. North Korea) and weird historical accidents of geopolitics that wind up uniting fairly liberal and forward-looking provinces (Pakistani Punjab) with barely governed pre-industrial tribal areas. (Look at a map of Pakistan. The parts marked Northwest Frontier Province and Northern Areas and Baluchistan? Those are to Punjab as Puerto Rico and Wasilla, Alaska, are to the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Only kind of less so.)

Because when the British were around, Lahore was by most reports one of the most sophisticated and cosmopolitan cities in South Asia, and remains so in pockets despite its relative isolation and the fact that everyone has to pretend, in the tradition of their founding father Jinnah, that they don't drink, which gives the whole place a kind of nifty speakeasy sort of feel.

And so forth.

Is it enormously problematic and occasionally counterproductive to work and spread aid in a region like this? Hell, yeah. Would it have been 1,000 percent smarter if the US had come in with billions in funding for Freedom Schools and Democracy Hospitals and America Fuck Yeah Highways in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 so that all those disgruntled Afghan refugees and Pashtun radicals had much less fertile soil in which to perate? Uh, fuck yeah. But all things considered, even poorly applied support likely beats having a nuclear-armed, radical-Islam-nurturing Chinese client state of convenience sitting in between a fully failed state full of NATO soldiers and the world's largest democracy.
posted by gompa at 8:18 AM on November 23, 2010 [16 favorites]


Fake Taliban, real embarrassment (Foreign Policy)
Mullah Omar, who leads one group of Taliban fighters based in Quetta, has insisted from the beginning that the talks last month were not taking place. At the time, Filkins had written that Omar was being "explicitly being cut out" of the talks. Now, it seems that is because the talks weren't really occurring.
posted by lullaby at 8:21 AM on November 23, 2010


But...his membership card was laminated and everything!
posted by JoanArkham at 8:30 AM on November 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


I was going to make a "I'm Taliban, give me money" comment, but I'm going home tomorrow and would like to stay off the no-fly list.
posted by reductiondesign at 8:46 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


The saddest part (from lullaby's link):

"[Gen. Petraeus/ISAF] were partially right: something had changed. But it wasn't the effectiveness of their tactics or strategy. Instead, this episode confirms what many Afghanistan watchers have long feared: the leadership of ISAF doesn't seem to have any idea what it's doing, who it's talking to, and (probably) who it is really killing."
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 8:48 AM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Let me guess: in this thread, we will talk about how stupid it is to take a stranger at their word and not be skeptical, even though over here we'll say the opposite.

This could easily have been resolved with a few DC-based bloggers offering advice to a young and naive taliban.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:05 AM on November 23, 2010


John Cole notes:

Mind you, we justified our continued existence in Afghanistan and the deaths of soldiers partially on the notion that we were possibly making headway in these “negotiations.”
posted by Joe Beese at 9:08 AM on November 23, 2010


"You see here, Colonel, when he signed in as Moolah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour? That probably should have raised some flags."
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:09 AM on November 23, 2010


No, the saddest part is that "we" will learn nothing from this. No one will lose their job; Afghan policy will not change; the people at the top will not say, "Hmm, our intelligence was completely wrong here, perhaps it's wrong elsewhere"; our governments will continue to do things that are obviously inept and wrong, and when we try to call them on it they will say, "It's more complicated than that, you don't understand."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:16 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can someone tell me why we continue to give Pakistan billions of dollars (last I saw the number was at $18bn,) and weapons?

Because the post-colonial alternative as supporting India, who as a member of the Non-Aligned Nations group, were obviously filthy commies who wouldn't do as they're told, when they're told.

As with Pinochet, Marcos, etc, US foriegn policy has always preferred supporting countries dominated by horrible strongmen and millitary dictators to actual democracies. And now, as others note, Pakistan has ridden that support to nukes, the US is stuck.
posted by rodgerd at 9:32 AM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Many of our adventures abroad seem to be thwarted by the same thing: the deep, unshakable American faith that all the societies we invade are cohesive and hierarchical, just like us, despite the crushing poverty, civil unrest, impotent government, and the recent unpleasantness (i.e., they all just had the bejesus bombed out of them by a rich Western power against whom the country in question is utterly unable to mount any credible defense).

We always imagine that there is some sort of group that's really in control of things, that the group is cohesive enough to merit a name of some kind, that the group has an effective leader, that we can deal with that leader in an honest way, and that we'll see an intentional effect on the actions of the group as a whole as a result.

That's a really odd attitude for a bunch of rugged-individualism Americans, of all people, to have, but there it is. It's the perfect opportunity for a con like this because we don't just want to believe there's a leader we can talk to, we truly believe it, so deep in our bones that we find it difficult to even contemplate an alternative.
posted by Western Infidels at 9:33 AM on November 23, 2010 [12 favorites]


We could look at this as an intelligence success; we eventually did figure out the guy was a fake.

Human intelligence is a difficult game. That's why there has been an over-emphasis on signal intelligence over the years.

When the Soviet union fell, several analysts pointed out that the flashpoints of the future would be in former Soviet client states and third world countries where the communications infrastructure just didn't exist in a way that would make signal intelligence a realistic approach. Human intelligence is required.

Unfortunately, human intelligence can be maddeningly difficult to obtain, and even harder to corroborate. There will be failures like this. A major obstacle is that in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, American and European agents have to work everything through go betweens until trust relationships can be built. It's a situation that is low hanging, very ripe fruit to con artists or the politically ambitious.

One word: Chalabi
posted by Xoebe at 10:19 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


We could look at this as an intelligence success; we eventually did figure out the guy was a fake.

Good take. What makes you think 'we' did not know who he was. Perhaps 'they' were dangling and stringing him. Like 'Monte Hall' meets 'Dating Game'.
posted by clavdivs at 10:38 AM on November 23, 2010


string und dangle rather
posted by clavdivs at 10:39 AM on November 23, 2010


Again, I'm reminded of the vast gulf between John Cole (of Balloon Juice), a mostly snide hack, and Juan Cole, who is one of the best voices on Middle East policy (and by extension, Central Asian policy, since the "war on terror" has united them).

Both Coles are against the war, but one of them will teach you new things and make you look at previous certainties in new light, the other will just reaffirm biases and preach to the choir.
posted by klangklangston at 11:18 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Let me guess: in this thread, we will talk about how stupid it is to take a stranger at their word and not be skeptical, even though over here we'll say the opposite.

Call me a dreamer if you like; I know I'm not the only one.

But I'd like to believe that the people attempting to negotiate with an organization like the Taliban would demonstrate more worldly wisdom and skepticism than a bunch of naive teenage girls seeking online mentors as a step toward becoming sex workers.
posted by winna at 12:09 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a great passage in Nabokov's "The Gift", that I think about frequently when I see or read various talking heads discussing foreign policy issues. In that passage, Fyodor sits politely, while his blowhard future father in law, Shchyogolev, discusses international politics. In an unintentionally comical way, Shchyogolev describes various alleged machinations between the powers of France, Britain and Russia, and Fyodor thinks to himself how those entities are entirely fictitious, having no relationship to the countries, save having the same name.

Bizarre disconnected fictitious entities engaged in odd and implausible machinations - all happening in a different and entirely imaginary realm: this is in essence the collective wisdom of our foreign intelligence services, it's what informs our military and diplomatic "big game" strategies, and what's chewed over by various corpulent experts and commentators for the benefit of the public, on TV and in publications.

Then something like this happens. Really, if you assume - as I do - that what we are doing over there is utterly disconnected from reality anyway, it comes as a comical sign that somehow the different realities have briefly intersected, puzzling our "experts" - and then, it blows over and we are back to our imaginary bizarro worlds and clever and brave strategies based on badger entrails.
posted by VikingSword at 12:10 PM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Both Coles are against the war

I would tend to agree with Klang
Though, I have to read this Ballon juice fella before any contrast is affirmed.

Juan Cole is in deed a fine teacher. I was introduced to his work 9 years ago through a mutual friend.

'Religion in Iran: From Zoroaster to Baha'u'llah' by Alessandro Bausani.

He is true scholar.
posted by clavdivs at 12:21 PM on November 23, 2010


Surely this...
posted by PenDevil at 12:25 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


"we are back to our imaginary bizarro worlds and clever and brave strategies based on badger entrails."
posted by clavdivs at 12:29 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Apparently the "Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour," very senior commander in the Taliban movement, who has been engaged in talks to end the Afghanistan war, is no such person. Whoever he was, and whoever sent him, he also walked away with "a lot of money."

Oh man, if anything ever merited a "When Hitler found out about..." parody, it's this. And no, I have not found one yet.
posted by rkent at 12:56 PM on November 23, 2010


maybe he got some parting gifts, a nice blender perhaps.
posted by clavdivs at 1:05 PM on November 23, 2010


I think the poetic way to deal with this is to give his picture to the Taliban and tell them what he did. They'll sort him out.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 1:14 PM on November 23, 2010


> I think the poetic way to deal with this is to give his picture to the Taliban and tell them what he did. They'll sort him out.

It's not at all improbable that this guy changed clothes, shaved his beard, and went back to his ISI desk after laundering the money in his cousin's wire transfer shop or something.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:36 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


If they weren't entirely useless, either because of ineptness or the total ruin of their ability to gather intelligence after they started to murder people in secret prisons, they would have very quickly exposed this guy.

Really? Now we're the bad guys? Not after the drug trafficking? The arms dealing? Not after helping Nazis escape justice so they could work on our rocket programs?* Not after everything in Nam? When was this period where people worked for us because we were the principled "good guys," and not for mercenary reasons or because we simply weren't as bad as their other options, exactly?

*Yes, I know that was technically the OSS.
posted by Amanojaku at 1:57 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


We do not negotiate with terrorists.

Well to be fair, since he was a fake, you didn't.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:17 PM on November 23, 2010


Something went wrong in Afghanistan! Everybody running the war is an idiot! I know nothing about international military intelligence, can't find Afghanistan on a map with labels and would shit my pants if I ever had to face the Taliban in real life, but I could so totally do better than those morons at the Pentagon!
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:24 PM on November 23, 2010




obiwanwasabi, have you indeed ever read anything about the matter? I recommend "The Dark Side" by Jane Mayer. Not everyone in the Pentagon is stupid, but those who have determined foreign policy for the last 10 years or so have been incompetent to say the least.
posted by notion at 10:12 AM on November 24, 2010


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