It reads like a joke. And it is, with the US being the butt. A shopkeeper from Quetta, allegedly, masqueraded as a senior Taliban leader, negotiating with senior Nato officials and the Karzai government, pocketing a sum that a Western diplomat would not describe as anything other than a lot. The placebo effect, as it is called in medicine, was also hilarious; there was an actual feeling amongst the Western military presence in Afghanistan that peace talks were going well precisely because of the gentleman who has now turned out to be a con artist. If only there was a picture of the person in question, it would be on posters in hostel dorms in business schools across the country, perhaps the world.

The incident illustrates the sorry state of affairs within the western intelligence setup. The tables have certainly turned; nine years ago, when Operation Infinite Justice was carried out, the US was arrogantly indifferent to overtures by the Taliban government to negotiate. Now, it is the militia that is unwilling to talk to the West. Much has been made of winning over certain elements within the Pushtun south, but it is becoming more and more clear that only those within the inner circle of the erstwhile government can matter. The only real headway that the Western forces had made in that regard was a possible dialogue with Mullah Baradar, who was picked up by Pakistani intelligence agencies before any such development could take place.

Casual discussions with Americans in Afghanistan are paint-by-numbers pictures of predictable white-man condescension; the people are stupid, they dont even know how to use basic tools, as if it were paleontologists talking about Neanderthals. Well, one of them just took the billion dollar Western intelligence establishment for a ride. The incident would have been funny if the humour wasnt, ultimately, at the expense of the Afghan people themselves, who are caught between a retrogressive, medievalist regime on one side and a sloppy, confused and greedy corporate army on the other.