Karzai aide blames British for bringing Taliban impostor to talks
Friday, November 26, 2010; 12:44 AM
KABUL - President Hamid Karzai's chief of staff on Thursday said that British authorities were responsible for bringing a Taliban impostor into the presidential palace and that foreigners should stay out of delicate negotiations with the Afghan insurgent group.
In an interview, Mohammad Umer Daudzai said that the British brought a man purporting to be Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, a senior Taliban leader, to meet Karzai in July or August but that an Afghan at the meeting knew "this is not the man."
Afghan intelligence later determined that the visitor was actually a shopkeeper from the Pakistani city of Quetta, he said.
"This shows that this process should be Afghan-led and fully Afghanized," Daudzai said. "The last lesson we draw from this: International partners should not get excited so quickly with those kind of things. . . . Afghans know this business, how to handle it. We handle it with care, we handle it with a result-based approach, with very less damage to all the other processes."
The episode has embarrassed Afghan and Western officials, and it has undercut the notion circulated earlier this year by senior U.S. officials that there was some momentum toward possible peace talks.
Daudzai's comments were the most direct assignation of blame so far, though U.S. officials have also said that the fake Mansour was primarily a British project. U.S. officials have long characterized the British as more aggressive than the Americans in pushing for a political settlement to end the war.
The false Mansour was "the Brits' guy," said a senior American official familiar with the case. "It was the British who brought him forward."
A spokesman for the British Embassy in Kabul declined to comment.
The story of how this man came to sit across from Karzai, and who he actually is, remains the subject of considerable dispute.
Daudzai said Afghan authorities first made contact with a man claiming to be a representative of Mansour about six to eight months ago. He was ready to arrange peace talks, and he said Mansour wanted a timeline for foreign troop withdrawal and a constitutional change to incorporate Islamic law. But the palace, Daudzai said, chose not to meet with Mansour's associate "because he was unknown, very junior."
But then the British took over, he said, and used that contact to arrange for Mansour to visit Kabul. Daudzai said British representatives, but not Americans, were present during the meeting with Karzai.
Americans were skeptical
American officials said they had doubts from the beginning. Mansour is well known, having served in the former Taliban government as minister of civil aviation. But this visitor was a few inches shorter than their intelligence indicated Mansour is, and he didn't come with the people he said he would bring. CIA officers, including the Kabul station chief, were particularly skeptical, but British intelligence believed that the contact was real, according to the senior American official.