Wed, Feb 22, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Charlatans capitalize on confusion in Afghanistan

NY Times News Service, KABUL

In an insurgency, everyone is an impostor. The enemy wears no uniform and carries no identity card.

Just so with a mullah in Kandahar named Noorul Aziz. After trading his job as a Taliban commander for a cushy post as an Afghan government official, the story goes, he was taken last month by the military coalition on a tour of his old bases, where he made speeches to persuade the locals not to support the insurgency.

Except the locals say they have never heard of him.

Then there was the Afghan “senator” who instead may have been a Taliban operative. Last month, he conned his way into getting a VIP tour of some of the most secret locations in Kandahar, with briefings from Kandahar Provincial Governor Tooryalai Wesa, the local head of the Afghan intelligence service and the governor of the strategic district of Dand.

He did not even bother to appropriate a real senator’s name.

“There was no senator by that name in the entire senate,” said Bismillah Afghanmal, a real senator from Kandahar.

These are hardly isolated cases. In September, a man posing as a Taliban peace envoy traveled from Kandahar to Kabul to meet the head of the High Peace Council and used a bomb hidden in his turban to assassinate him. The year before, a scammer who persuaded Americans that he was a high-ranking Taliban official who wanted to talk peace was flown in by a NATO helicopter to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and paid handsomely for his time. In late 2009, a CIA informer who turned out to be an al-Qaeda plant killed eight people in a suicide attack at an agency outpost.

Aziz, the supposed Taliban commander, showed up in Kandahar last year with 30 armed men and a letter from the Taliban leadership in Pakistan showing that he had just been appointed the shadow governor of Kunduz Province in the north.

His story was that he did not like it up north so he was turning himself in as part of the government’s reintegration program, in which former Taliban fighters are offered access to community and jobs programs. Wesa and other officials greeted him with bear hugs.

In southern Afghanistan, officials say fewer than 300 Taliban insurgents have turned themselves in under the two-year-old program; many are believed to be opportunists looking for government handouts.

“We have two kinds of Taliban, fake Taliban and real Taliban,” Amanullah Hotaki, chairman of the Uruzgan Provincial Council, said of those who have turned themselves in there. “The fake are 60 or 70, but the real ones are only five.”

In an interview last year, Aziz insisted he was no phony and had been stationed in the war-torn district of Nad Ali in Helmand Province, once one of the most violent places in Afghanistan.

Elders there, however, insisted they had never heard of him.

“We don’t know a Taliban commander by the name of Noorul Aziz,” said Haji Mirwais Khan, a tribal elder. “Maybe he has been called by a pseudonym?”

Western military intelligence officials have also cast doubt on Aziz’s bona fides.

Nonetheless, after his surrender, Aziz managed to become the provincial director of the Department of Hajj and Religious Affairs, a plum job that in many parts of Afghanistan has been a front for corruption. He was appointed by Wesa, who reportedly also arranged the visit of the mysterious non-senator.

In the senator case, a man calling himself Muhammad Asif Sarhadi said he was a senator from Ghor Province who wanted to start a new museum and open a Kandahar branch. The governor, according to local officials, then gave him introductions in the districts, where he met with police, intelligence and government officials.

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