David Randall: Mr Bun takes advantage of an extreme case of wishful thinking

Four corners of the world
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The biggest puzzle of the past seven days concerns the exploratory negotiations in Afghanistan with what everyone assumed was the Taliban's second-in-command, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. It now seems that it was the British who had initial contact with this man, cultivated him, and brought him to Kabul for three meetings with the Afghans. So far, so normal in the murky world in which we find ourselves enmeshed courtesy of our foolish invasion.

What has made it less normal, even by the surreal standards of Afghanistan, is that the man, turned out to be an unknown shopkeeper from Quetta in Pakistan. The real Mansour, apart from being one of the wily, resourceful brains behind the Taliban, is well known in Kabul, having been the minister for civil aviation there in the 1990s. How do you meet, greet, and hold talks with a small trader and mistake him for one of the Taliban's high-flyers and a former aviation minister? What were we discussing with him? The price of apples? The mark-up on tinned peaches? And, of course, apart from mistaking this Pakistani Mr Bun the baker for one of the world's most dangerous people, we also gave him piles of cash. All a matter, one suspects, of wishful thinking, the defining motto of our Afghan policy for at least a century and a half.

* To a certain kind of person, theatricals ar e "luvvies", a modern form of the snobbery that once viewed all actors and actresses as ne'er-do-wells and tramps. By way of an antidote, I offer you the life of Ingrid Pitt, star of some of the more raunchy Hammer films, who died last week. Forget, if you can, her heaving bosom and vampire's teeth, both ever-ready to be bared, and think instead of the following. Born in Poland in 1937 and half-Jewish, she spent three years in a Nazi concentration camp, and escaped with her mother as they were being taken into a forest to be shot. She was reunited with her father, and raised in East Berlin, attending medical school, and a theatre school run by Bertolt Brecht's widow. Her criticism of East German repression irked the authorities, and, on the eve of her stage debut, she escaped to the West by diving into the River Spree. She married the US serviceman who saved her from drowning.

She won her role in Where Eagles Dare almost by accident, and went on to appear in Hammer films, Dr Who, and founded her own touring company. She also wrote more than a dozen books, was a karate black belt, a qualified pilot, and an enthusiastic devotee of cricket. Some luvvie.

* The United States, normally the font of all innovation, is struggling to cope with a European invention – roundabouts. Virtually unknown 15 years ago, they are proliferating because they are safer (far fewer high-speed right-angled crashes), and easier on fuel consumption. Yet Americans are strangely resistant to these sensible arrangements, writes The New York Times. The paper quotes a Pennsylvannia teacher saying: "Just because something works in one culture, doesn't mean it's going to work in another." Can a Sarah Palin campaign for "patriot intersections" be far behind?

* We are so used to buoyant economic news from China that a recent statistic which leached out of its vast bureaucracy received little attention: while overall inflation in the 12 months to October was 4.4 per cent, food prices rose 10.1 per cent. Non-optimists may find this worrying.