CONNING THE TALIBAN

by Ted Rall

ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN--For much of the year now drawing to a close, U.S. and NATO bigwigs conducted secret peace talks with Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, the #2 Taliban official. They paid him tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of dollars to show good will. NATO planes delivered him to the presidential palace in Kabul, where he met with Hamid Karzai.

"But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all," reports The New York Times. The phony Mansour, Afghan intelligence agents say, was actually "a shopkeeper from the Pakistani city of Quetta" who looked nothing like the real guy.

You can't sugarcoat this debacle. L'affair Mansour instantly transformed the United States, previously reviled as the world's most brutish bully, into an intergalactic laughingstock.

Yes, our government and military are headed by dumb-as-rocks hillbillies. But the Taliban can be fooled too--as I learned during my own top secret mission deep in the deepest valleys between the highest mountains of the Hindu Kush.

I found myself short of cash while traveling in Afghanistan in August. So I devised an ingenious scheme. Call it Operation Turnabout: Why not present myself to the Taliban as a high-ranking American official eager to end the war? It could be fun. It could be lucrative. And who knows? If they fell for it, I'd be up for the Nobel Peace Prize!

Finding Talibs didn't take long. I walked up to two guys planting an IED. Or they were stoning some chick. I don't remember. Anyway, it isn't important.

"Salaam," I greeted them. "I am American Vice President Joe Biden. Take me forthwith to your leader, Mullah Omar, he of one eye, and see that you are quick about it."

The rogues chucked me into the back of their Toyota Landcruiser, wrapped in duct tape. Off we went. If I didn't know better, I'd swear they hit every pothole on purpose.

Eventually, we stopped. They ripped the tape off my face. "American dog!" they cried in unison. "Time for dinner!" A kebab vendor glared at me from the side of the road. As did the goat head on the grill.

My animal cunning was too much for the two undereducated brutes. "Alas, my good fellows," I replied, "my White House Amex card is not accepted by yon locals. Might I 'borrow' some money? You know--as good faith?"

Soon I was 17 afghanis richer. My plan was working!

A day or two later, my bound form was carried into an empty poured-concrete room in a complex somewhere in The Remote Tribal Areas Along the Border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and dumped on the floor. A bearded man with an eye patch walked in.

"I am Mullah Mohammed Omar, Head of the Supreme Council and Commander of the Faithful of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," he said.

"Hi there," I said. "I am American Vice President Joe Biden of America."

He grimaced.

"How do I know you are who you say you are?" he asked.

"Ask me anything," I challenged. "The combination to the safe where the Oval Office porn collection is kept. Vladimir Putin's cell number. I can even identify most of the American states."

He smiled.

"Of course you can," he said. "But you could say anything. We have no way to check it out. The United States is a distant, remote country. Its leaders have never been seen in public, certainly not by Afghans. We don't even know if there is a 'Joe Biden.'"

"We must trust one another," I purred, "if there is to be peace."

I had him there. He chuckled. "Yes," he said.

"Of course, travel between my country and yours is very expensive," I pointed out. "As you may have heard, we Americans have spent all our money on bonuses for bank CEOs and hedge fund managers. So, if our quest for peace is to have a future, you must front me some cash."

Sated with watery tea and partly-cooked goat parts, I headed for the Peshawar bus terminal. Where I reserved two full seats in coach. So I could ride, legs spread. American style.

Before long the media reported that the Taliban was conducting secret peace negotiations with "a high-ranking U.S. official." Naturally, the Americans denied the leaks. President Obama spat: "The cunning enemy is trying to expand its military operations on the basis of its double-standard policy and wants to throw dust into the eyes of the people by spreading the rumors of negotiation."

No one believed him. No one ever believes Americans.

Ha!

My brilliant ruse continued throughout the month. Sometimes the two cartoonists with whom I was traveling asked me where I was spending nights. "With Mullah Omar!" I wanted to shout. "Eating his nan and blowing through dozens of his afghanis!" But I couldn't. "I was in the bathroom," I lied.

Yes, we are a dumber-than-dumb people led by a stupider-than-stupid government. But the Taliban aren't much smarter.

So there.

(Ted Rall is the author of "The Anti-American Manifesto." His website is tedrall.com.)