NATO, Afghan officials negotiated with Taliban 'impostor'
It has recently been discovered that the top-level leader touted by NATO, US, and Afghan officials as the key to negotiations with the Taliban and who had raised hopes about the prospects for peace was an "impostor."
Coalition and Afghan officials have believed for months that they have been in direct talks with Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour, one of Mullah Omar's top two deputies, but have discovered that the person they have been in talks with faked his identity, The New York Times reported.
Mansour and Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir, a former detainee who became the Taliban's top military commander in the south after his release in December 2007, were appointed by Mullah Omar to lead the Quetta Shura, the Taliban's executive council, in March of this year. Mansour took over the administrative role, and Zakir became the Taliban's top military leader.
Zakir and Mansour replaced Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was taken into custody by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate earlier this year after he supposedly tried to conduct negotiations with the Afghan government. The terms of Baradar's detention are unclear; some officials say he was not arrested but merely placed into protective custody.
Mansour was the Minister of Civil Aviation and Transportation during the Taliban's rule of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. He also served as the shadow governor of Kandahar province after the Taliban were ejected from power during the US invasion in 2001.
The fake Mansour approached NATO and Afghan officials months ago, and "was initially given a sizable sum of money to take part in the talks -- and to help persuade him to return," The New York Times reported. Officials became suspicious about the identity of the man only after the third meeting. The man's identity could not be confirmed; he was unable to return to the meeting with other Taliban leaders, and his demands were radically different from the Taliban's stated negotiating position.
"The Afghan man did not demand, as the Taliban have in the past, a withdrawal of foreign forces or a Taliban share of the government," according to the The New York Times reported.
The identity of the impostor is not known. Some officials believe he is a "free agent" seeking to profit, some believe he is a Taliban plant designed to sow confusion among Afghan and NATO leaders, and others believe he was sent by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate.
The report of the Taliban impostor comes just one week after Mullah Omar, the overall leader of the Taliban, denied that any high-level talks were taking place. Omar released his statement on the Taliban's website, Voice of Jihad. In the statement, Omar maintained that Taliban operations across the country have forced NATO officials to spread "misleading rumors of peace talks."
"The Islamic Emirate still holds its previous stand regarding the current issue of the country," Omar stated. "Islamic Emirate believes that the solution of the issue lies in withdrawal of the foreign invading troops and establishment of a true Islamic and independent system in the country."
The Coalition "wants to throw dust into the eyes of the people by spreading the rumors of negotiation," Omar continued. "Claims about negotiation, flexibility in the stance of the Islamic Emirate, are mere baseless propaganda."
The release of Omar's statement occurred after weeks of conflicting press reports, some of which have claimed that senior-level Taliban leaders, including several backed by Omar's Quetta Shura, have conducted high-level talks with Afghan officials. But some Afghan, UN, NATO, and US officials have denied that such talks have taken place. Mullah Kabir, a senior Taliban leader in the east, is said to have met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, yet Kabir himself denounced such negotiations in a statement released on Voice of Jihad.
- Taliban Leader in Secret Talks Was an Impostor, The New York Times
- Former Gitmo detainee leads top Taliban council, The Long War Journal
- The Taliban's surge commander was Gitmo detainee, The Long War Journal
- Mullah Baradar, the Afghan Taliban's deputy commander, reported captured in Karachi, The Long War Journal
- Pakistan releases Mullah Baradar?, Threat Matrix
- Mullah Omar rejects reports of peace talks, highlights Taliban strategy, The Long War Journal