Duping of MI6 reveals Afghan coalition flaws
For months Britain wooed Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansoor, who claimed to be a high ranking member of the Taliban leadership - but now it is being reported that he duped MI6.
Not only did he milk the intelligence service for hundreds of thousands of pounds, but Britain even facilitated a trip by Mullah Mansoor from Pakistan to Kabul by RAF Hercules for peace talks.
Now it is being alleged that the mullah, who has since disappeared, did not hold any real sway in the Taliban leadership, may indeed have been an impostor, and that MI6 was credulous in claiming that he might offer the hope of a breakthrough in reconciling Afghanistan's warring parties.
While some have spun this as a tale of British incompetence, I would argue the salient lessons are firstly that this saga's emergence speaks volumes about the political disunity at the heart of the coalition's strategy, and that many are over-estimating what might actually be achieved by "talking to the Taliban".
We know about this sorry tale because one senior figure in the Afghan president's office chose to tell the press, arguing that it showed the dangers of foreigners meddling in Afghan peacemaking, and because certain US officials seem to have confirmed the story.
There are therefore clear agendas that run along well understood lines - both of President Hamid Karzai's prickly nationalism and of the CIA's desire to keep its sister agencies in their place.
However, as Bill Harris a senior American official who had until recently been working in Kandahar pithily told the Times, "Something this stupid generally requires teamwork".
In other words, the British may have found this Afghan "intermediary", but other agencies and nationalities would have been involved in the decision to proceed with him and bring him to the presidential palace in Kabul.
The current blame game is a sign of how bad relations are between these major players.
As for oft heard mantra of "talking to the Taliban", this assumes that it is possible to find someone capable of holding a meaningful conversation.
There have after all been efforts to do so by both the Afghan authorities and the foreigners for many years.
The so-called Quetta Shura of Pakistan-based opposition leaders is supposed to reflect the will of Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader deposed by the Americans nine years ago.
It is the closest thing there is to a Taliban leadership - hence the target of MI6's efforts - but it is doubtful that it could influence most of those fighting the Afghan government and Nato, even if it wanted to.
There are other major groupings fighting after all - Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami (Islamic Party) and Jalaludin Haqqani's Network to name the largest two.
As Nato officials have told us though, 75% of those fighting their troops do so within five miles of their homes.
The Afghan resistance or opposition is in most places a grassroots phenomenon with little or no, higher co-ordination.
The Afghans fighting President Karzai tend to be just as tribal, factional, and local in outlook as those who supposedly support him.
If the word therefore came from Mullah Omar to cease fire, it is open to question how many armed men in Helmand or Kandahar provinces would actually take any notice of it.
The logic of those who seek to develop contacts with the Quetta Shura is that even a 20% reduction in resistance activity would help.
It would after all save many lives.
While the cost of wooing "Mullah Mansoor" may be extremely high in the context of the typical Afghan family's income, it is pretty trivial when compared to the cost of a few Predator strikes on compounds in Pakistan.