Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Talking to the Taliban: you couldn't make it up...

When American military officials defended the surge in Afghanistan, they often pointed to its role in forcing the Taliban to begin engaging in talks with the Karzai government, talks which were supported by ISAF and U.S. forces. As always, given the secretiveness of the military and the unwillingness of journalists to probe too deeply lest their ‘credible and anonymous’ sources dry up, there was little in the way of details about the who, the what or the how of those talks.

But I suspect that we all now know what was the basis for this supposed breakthrough in our military strategy. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we suddenly hear a lot less about the prospects for those talks, and if the military has to dig around for some other defence of their waste of American and Afghan lives, now that we know that the key ‘Taliban’ figure engaging in those talks was a fraud. He was supposed to be Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, a senior figure in the Taliban.

While we still don’t know who he really is, what we can be sure of is that he’s walked away not only with whatever large sums of money U.S. intelligence chose to bribe him with, but with even more of the credibility of the Karzai government and of U.S. military and intelligence strategists. That credibility is a precious resource given its scarcity, and this latest blow raises serious questions about the capability of our intelligence services, the ineptitude of the Karzai government, the use of highly questionable information by the military to defend their strategy, the value of that strategy, and of course, our continued presence in Afghanistan.

The story of U.S. intelligence pouring money and time into courting an impostor would be hilarious if it wasn’t also a sign of how out of our depth we are in Afghanistan, both in terms of our overarching strategy and the more basic ‘Who’s Who’ of the people we are by turns fighting and inviting ‘round to tea.

It is increasingly unclear what good our presence does either our national security—now the Obama administration’s primary rationale for our continued war—or the well-being of Afghans—the other argument made about the need to stay on, which rings particularly hollow given the ramped-up use of drones, the secretive expansion of the war into Pakistan, the night-time raids, the volte-face on negotiating with the Taliban, and the inability to focus our aims for either war or peace.

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