Afghan President Hamid Karzai and NATO officials have apparently been duped by an impostor claiming to be one of the highest-ranking members of the Taliban during the two parties’ ongoing “high-level” negotiations over the last few months. The man, believed to be a Pakistani shopkeeper and not even a member of the Taliban, claimed he was Mullah Akthar Muhammad Mansour, a chief deputy to the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar.
Serious doubts about the man’s identity arose after his third meeting with Afghan officials when a man who knew Mansour years ago realized the negotiator was not the Taliban leader. But the con man had fooled everyone up until that point. He was flown to Kabul on a NATO aircraft, ushered into the presidential palace for a meeting with Karzai, and given “a lot of money” for his participation in the talks.
Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar
News that the Afghan government entered into talks with the Taliban last month met resistance in the U.S. But the Taliban’s apparent willingness to negotiate previously untouchable demands – for example, the fake Mansour did not insist on the withdrawal of foreign troops before opening peace talks – had raised hopes that the organization was ready to progress in negotiations after two years of dragging its feet.
If confirmed, the impostor’s involvement would be a blow to the Afghan and U.S. governments’ push to find a political resolution to the war, and would raise questions about the decision to enter into negotiations with the Taliban in the first place. As Sayed Amir Muhammad Agha, a former Taliban commander who has acted as a go-between with the movement, said, “Whenever I talk to the Taliban, they never accept peace and they want to keep on fighting. They are not tired.”