Juan Cole: Scammed in Afghanistan





[Juan Cole, the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, maintains the blog Informed Comment. His most recent book, just out in paperback, is “Engaging the Muslim World.”]

The announcement by the New York Times that one of the supposedly prominent Taliban with whom the Karzai government has been negotiating turns out to be an impostor is only the latest depressing indication that the whole Afghanistan boondoggle is shot through with flimflammery. The US gave a man claiming to be Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansur, Mullah Omar’s number two, “a lot of money” to engage in talks. He also was flown to Kabul to consult with President Hamid Karzai at the presidential palace (Karzai, terrified of looking like a laughingstock, denied the meeting).

The incident demonstrates that US and Afghanistan intelligence on the Taliban is very poor, since they don’t even know what the leaders look like. It means that they don’t have double agents high up in the organization with whom they could have checked on Mansur’s absences from his home base– while he was hobnobbing with Karzai and the Americans– so as to confirm his identity.

The incident set me thinking about all the impostures of that war, which are legion. Let us begin with the frankly dishonest discourse about it of both our twenty-first century presidents, who maintain that the US is fighting “al-Qaeda” in Afghanistan. But there is no al-Qaeda to speak of in that country, if by the term one means the mainly Arab Pan-Islamic International that sees Usama Bin Laden as its leader. US forces in Afghanistan are fighting disgruntled Pashtuns, for the most part. Some are from Gulbuddin Hikmatyar’s Islamic Party. Others from the Haqqani family’s Haqqani Network. The Reagan administration and its Saudi allies once showered billions of dollars on Hikmatyar and Haqqani, so they aren’t exactly eternal adversaries of the US. Some insurgents are from the Old Taliban of Mullah Omar. Still others are not so much terrorist cartels as tribes and guerrilla groups who are just unhappy with poppy eradication campaigns, or with the foreign troop presence (they would say ‘occupation’), or with how Karzai has given out patronage unequally, favoring some tribes over others. The insurgency is almost exclusively drawn from the Pashtun ethnic group....

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