Officials in Afghanistan are scratching their heads in bewilderment after discovering that an unidentified man may have collected a treasure trove of sensitive information from security and intelligence offices throughout Afghanistan's southern Kandahar Province after impersonating a ranking member of Afghanistan's parliament.
Bismallah Afghanmal, a Kandahar representative to Afghanistan's upper house of parliament, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on February 15 that a man identifying himself as Mohammad Asif Sarhadi, a member of Afghanistan's upper house of parliament from Ghor Province, met with the governor of Kandahar Province, Tooryalai Wesa, earlier this month.
Currently, there are no Afghan members of parliament named Mohammad Asif Sarhadi.
Wesa, believing his guest to be a member of Afghanistan's parliamentary Defense Committee, facilitated an official visit to Maruf District, a mountainous region on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. There, the purported member of parliament discussed local security matters with district leaders; he later repeated his performance in Kandahar's Dand District, where he met with district governor Ahmidullah Nazek and obtained "every possible piece of information" related to the area's security, Afghanmal told RFE/RL.
"Sarhadi" capped off his visit to Kandahar with visits to a local prison and to the provincial office of Afghanistan's national intelligence agency, where he was again given a full briefing, according to Afghanmal.
When officials later realized that they may have been had, Nazek provided Afghanmal with the man's mobile-phone number. A phone call from Afghanmal revealed that the man, who told Afghanmal that he was currently unemployed, was not a member of the Afghan parliament.
"He certainly belonged to an intelligence organization, and he has gathered a lot of important documents.
Officials are still uncertain as to the intentions of the mystery visitor. But Mohammad Alam Ezedyar, the first deputy of the parliament's upper house, called the incident "very dangerous" and criticized local officials for the breach of security.
"He certainly belonged to an intelligence organization, and he has gathered a lot of important documents," Ezedyar said.
That characterization was disputed by Zalmay Ayubi, a spokesperson for the Kandahar governor, who told RFE/RL that the governor did not provide the man with any sensitive materials.
"We didn't exchange any documents with him, and he wasn't here to coordinate anything," Ayubi said.
The Kandahar governor would hardly be the first Afghan politician to fall victim to a clever impersonator.
In November 2010, Kabul and Washington were roiled by the discovery that a key interlocutor in peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban was not, as he had claimed, Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour. Before his ruse was discovered, the impostor met three times with Afghan President Hamid Karzai
, according to Afghan and NATO officials. International media organizations reported at the time that the man may have been a shopkeeper from the Pakistani border city of Quetta.
Based on reporting from Fereshta Neda in Kabul and Sadiq Reshtinai in Kandahar