Mullah Iowahak Muhammadavi al-Burjihad (US State Dept. Photo)
New York Times International Bureau
Coralville, Iowa - A high ranking official with the U.S. State Department expressed optimism this afternoon that new top-to-top diplomatic negotiations between the United States government and an elusive moderate Taliban warlord would bring a speedy end to the conflict in Afghanistan, paving the way for the Obama adminstration to withdraw American troops ahead of its 2011 plan .
The dramatic revelation was widely hailed as victory for Administration diplomatic efforts in the war-torn region, particularly after recent reports that American officials had negotiated with and provided large amounts of money to a Taliban imposter.
"This latest round of talks certainly helps re-bolster the case for a negotiated solution in Afghanistan," said Ruth Sedgewick of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. "Unlike the previous Mullah this one seems to be the real deal, and moderate enough that he agreed to meet on American soil."
Before Monday, little was known about the State Department's latest negotiation partner, Mullah Iowahak Muhammadavi al-Burjihad, whom officials described as the #2 man in the Taliban body & paint shop. A high-ranking diplomat with the American negotiation team said that al-Burjihad initially contacted U.S. authorities through its official Moderate Taliban email tip hotline. The contents of al-Burjihad's email - provided to the Times after redaction by National Security officials - read in part:
REQUEST FOR URGENT BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP
MY MOST DEAR AMERICANSKI INFIDELSKIS,
FIRST BEFORE I PROVIDE THE DETAILS OF THIS MOST IMPORTANT BUSINESS TRANSACTION PERMIT ME TO INTRODUCE MYSELF AND THE NATURE OF MY PREDICAMENT. MY NAME IS MULLAH IOWAHAK MUHAMMADAVI AL-BURJIHAD, TOP MODERATE OFFICIAL OF TALIBAN ARMY. DUE TO THE DEATH OF MY LATE UNCLE GENERAL COMMANDER CHUCK-O AL-BURJIHAD I HAVE BEEN DELEGATED AS A MATTER OF TRUST THE POSITION OF NUMERO UNO PEACE NEGOTIATOR FOR THE TALIBAN. I AM IN SEEK OF OVERSEAS PARTNERS FOR MODERATE PEACE AND THE SUM $7.25 BILLION DOLLARS IN EXCHANGE.
I AM NOW IN POSSESSION OF A FULLY VALID MODERATE TALIBAN PEACE AGREEMENT DOCUMENT WHICH I AM TRULY EAGER TO TRANSFER BY WIRE INTO YOUR ACCOUNT. I AM IN URGENT REQUEST FOR YOUR DIPLOMATIC TREATY ACCOUNT AND U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT BANK ROUTING INFORMATION.
MULLA IOWAHAK MUHAMMADAVI AL-BURJIHAD
"We were of course skeptical at first of his peace proposal and whether he was truly a moderate Taliban," said the diplomat. "But after several rounds of bargaining by email we found he was quite receptive to counter-offers, and he finally accepted our lowball deal of $2450 and six kegs of Old Style. It was at that point we realized - now here is a moderate we can do business with."
After the initial Monday round of email negotiations, American officials insisted on a face-to-face meeting in Afghanistan with Mullah al-Burjihad to work out final details of the agreement and for official signatures. Al-Burjihad at first balked at the meeting proposal, citing security concerns, but later acceded when State Department officials promised armed protection and to move the meeting to the Golden Corral steakhouse in Coralville, Iowa.
An administration insiders present at the intial face-to-face meeting Tuesday during the $10.99 all-you-can-eat buffet dinner described the discussion as "frank and productive." The mysterious warlord arrived, ululating, in a 1994 Dodge Neon emblazoned with the official Taliban seal and Johnson County plates. He was escorted inside by a entourage two men armed with what appeared to be cardboard scimitars. A tense brief standoff soon ensued when U.S. Secret Service agents insisted on a bodily weapons search, during which Mullah al-Burjihad's deputy Commander Muhammad al-Kyle warned them to "get away from my nards, fuckstick."
The first diplomatic breakthrough occured quickly after the two sides went through the salad bar and settled into the pre-arranged negotiation booth, when Administration officials agreed to Mullah al-Burjihad's demands to pick up the tab including drinks and tip. However, an impasse soon developed when the Mullah loudly demanded immediate payment of his $2450 and a double whiskey & Coke.
"This is part of standard bargaining strategy for the Taliban, and we've gotten wise to it," explained a ranking diplomat on the American team. "We drew a hard line in the sand and told him he must first show us a sign of good faith. Then the assistant manager told him that Golden Corral doesn't have a liquor license."
The lack of Jack Daniels and the Americans' tough insistance on verification left al-Burjihad angered, but with few alternatives. By the time the check arrived the Taliban Mullah made his first major concession - under immunity, he would allow American officials inside his secret Coralville war compound where he would personally surrender some of his own weapons cache.
"When I heard him give on that point, I knew we were now within reach of signing one the most important Middle East peace settlements in history," said the diplomat. "One of the top fifty, minimum."
Soon though, another impasse developed. While leading the State Department motorcade to his compound, al-Burjihad's Neon made a stop at Regal Liqour where he refused to proceed further until the Americans agreed to pay for at least two of the agreed Old Style kegs, along with four bags of Doritos, a carton of Marlboro Menthols, several pornographic magazines, and rolling papers.
"We tried to remain firm, but as every international relations expert from Harvard to Georgetown knows, sometimes you have to be flexible when you have the objective in sight," said the diplomat. "But we got the Mullah to agree to pay back the keg deposit."
After receiving payment approval from the Oval Office and loading the kegs into the State Department's black Escalades, the Americans arrived at the Mullah's hidden riverside compound in Majestic Oakwoods.
"You often hear how hospitable Afghans are once they have invited you into their own homes," said the diplomat. "True to his word, Mullah al-Burjihad handed over some of his own personal weapons, including a .22 rifle, a taser, and large cache of lawn darts. Afterwards he clapped his hands and ordered his aides to tap the kegs in celebration of peace. As we raised our glasses, I'll never forget the Mullah's words: 'now where's my money, asshole?'"
"I asked the Mullah how we knew our draft peace agreement was binding, he said that if any elements in Afghanistan failed to adhere to it, we had his permission to, quote, 'bomb the living shit out of them,'" added the diplomat.
In the celebration that followed the Mullah invited U.S. negotiators to participate in traditional Afghan dirt bike jousting, followed by smoking a peace pipe filled with traditional Cedar County kush, and a traditional Afghan drink he called 'Kyle Nitrate.'
"After that, the negotiation details became somewhat blurry," said the diplomat.
Before the final brokered agreement could be signed, the negotiations were interrupted by Mullah al-Burjihad's wife Fatima Jo. In the melee that followed, State Department officials scrambled for the safety of their Escalades while the Mullah and his Taliban entourage fended off blows from Fatima Jo's 'Dave stick.'
"One often hears about violent abuse of women in Afghan culture, but it really seems to be turning around," said the diplomat. "I mean, Lord, like 180 degrees around."
While no official peace agreement has yet been signed, the American diplomat said he remained hopeful that one was still within reach.
"We were almost there," he said in a note of cautious optimism. "We spoke to Mullah al-Bujihad by phone this morning and he is open to further talks after he finishes recuperation. In any event, we must remain open to talking with Mullah al-Burjihad and other moderate Taliban until we finally have achieved the plausible fig leaf President Obama needs for 2012."
"By the way," he added, "has anybody seen my credit cards?"