In Struggle With Taliban, on Guard for Charlatans - 03-30-2012, 12:23 PM
February 18, 2012
In Struggle With Taliban, on Guard for Charlatans
By ROD NORDLAND and ALISSA J. RUBIN
KABUL, Afghanistan — In an insurgency, everyone is an imposter. 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 never heard of him.
Then there was the Afghan “senator” who instead may have been a Taliban operative. In January, he conned his way into getting a V.I.P. tour of some of the most secret locations in Kandahar, with briefings from the American-backed 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 adopt a real senator’s name. “There was no senator by that name in the entire senate,” said Bismillah Afghanmal, who is 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 the Americans that he was a high-ranking Taliban official who wanted to talk peace was flown in by a NATO helicopter to meet with President Hamid Karzai, and paid handsomely for his time. In late 2009, a CIA informer who turned out to be a Qaeda plant killed eight people in a suicide attack at an agency outpost.
Mr. 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 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. The reintegration program has been off to a slow start, so to get a shadow governor of a province to walk in was a big deal. Governor 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, the chairman of the Oruzgan 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, Mr. Aziz insisted he had been the Taliban commander in the district of Nad Ali in Helmand Province, once one of the most violent places in Afghanistan.
Elders there, however, said 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 Mr. Aziz’s bona fides. “We don’t know who he is,” said one.
Nonetheless, after his surrender, Mr. 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 font of corruption. He was appointed by Governor 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 to district officials, where he met with police, intelligence and government officials.
“He was not here officially and we did not deal with him officially,” said Zalmai Ayoubi, a spokesman for Governor Wesa. He conceded, however, that “Mr. Sarhadi” talked with officials about security issues as well as museums.
Mr. Aziz, the supposed former Taliban, went on tour last week in Helmand Province, visiting what he said were his former bases from his insurgency days, and meeting NATO coalition soldiers there.
“Meeting face to face with a former Taliban commander gave me mixed feelings to begin with,” said Maj. Kaido Kivistik, commander of an Estonian Army company.
Mixed feelings about Mr. Aziz are common. “We don’t know him, “ said Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, the spokesman for the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. “He’s a sick man and he’s an imposter.”
Emma Watkins, a spokeswoman for the southwest regional command of the NATO-led coalition, which includes Helmand, disputed that Mr. Aziz was not genuine. “I am informed that Mr. Aziz continues to be the director of Haj in Kandahar and in particular he made a speech at the Kandahar peace conference in September last year,” she said.
Turning against the Taliban, whether sincerely or not, has become something of a family business for Mr. Aziz, who was rewarded with a house, bodyguards, money and a job. At least four of his brothers and a father have also turned themselves in — one of them, Abdul Aziz Agha, claimed to have been the Taliban commander in Panjway District, a Taliban stronghold just outside of Kandahar.
In Panjway, no one had ever heard of Mr. Agha, either.
Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Sharifullah Sahak from Kabul.
|charlatans, guard, struggle, taliban|