How can you not laugh at the news that the Taliban “leader” who was negotiating with Afghan officials in Kabul was an imposter? Foreign Policy’s website runs a list of “Top 10 ways to tell your new Taliban friend is an imposter” — e.g., “Eyepatch switches sides from meeting to meeting,” and “Runs up a large minibar tab at the Four Seasons Kabul.”
Beyond the yucks, this merely confirms what I (and many others) have been saying all along: the time is not yet ripe for real negotiations. Before they will make a deal, the Taliban will have to be convinced they cannot win a military victory. The process of convincing them has just started. True, U.S. troops are making significant gains in Kandahar and Helmand, but it will not be obvious until next summer whether they can hold the ground they have just won. It is doubtful that many Taliban will decide to defect before then. By all means, the Afghan government and its foreign allies should keep an open door to talk about a political settlement — but we shouldn’t expect any results anytime soon. And in the future, if genuine negotiations do start, it might be wise to demand some proof of “Taliban-ness” from our interlocutors. Maybe we can demand that they behead someone?