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Karzai aide blames British for bringing Taliban impostor to talks

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
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.

"The agency expressed skepticism early on that this was Mullah Mansour," another U.S. official said. "There was very healthy skepticism."

A former senior Afghan official who was involved in the case disputed that the British did anything more than provide logistical help to bring Mansour to Kabul. He characterized Daudzai's position as a political attack on the West when in fact the Afghans were responsible for the meeting.

The former official said that the public discussion of the case risks the life of the man who attended the meeting, as well as those of Afghan agents in Pakistan, and has "ruined the entire process."

"And if he's not the person - and there has never been evidence produced that he is not that person - then they jumped to a conclusion before looking at the evidence," the official said, adding that the man who attended the meeting passed identification screening tests with 95 percent certainty.

The senior American official cast doubt on the Afghan claims that the Taliban impostor is a shopkeeper. The man's comments indicated that he knew Taliban positions on issues and that he seemed to have some knowledge of the movement's inner circle.

Daudzai said the impostor may have been dispatched by Pakistan's spy agency to "test the system," but "we can't say for sure."

Either way, he said, Britain and other European countries "are in haste" to move peace talks with the Taliban forward, perhaps to speed up their troops' departure. Afghanistan's 70-member peace council, which includes former Taliban officials, should be leading the process, Daudzai said, because it is familiar with the enemy.

'Very bad things going on'

Daudzai also weighed in on the political turmoil surrounding the Sept. 18 parliamentary elections.

In the palace's first extended comments on the final results of the vote, Daudzai said that he supports the attorney general's investigations of fraud allegations and that some election officials - among the 96,000 recruited for the task - appear to be involved in wrongdoing.

"That's not to say that the commission, and the leadership of the process, are involved in it. As far as we know, they did a good job. But within the system, there have been very bad things going on," he said.

On Thursday, the Afghan attorney general's office announced that authorities had arrested nine people on allegations of participating in voting fraud. Six of the suspects work with money-exchange companies, and three are construction company owners who were parliamentary candidates.

Afghan authorities have also issued an arrest warrant for a United Nations official who allegedly promised the construction company owners that they would be elected in return for tens of thousands of dollars, money that was entrusted with the money-exchange officials, Nazari said.

Four election officials have been summoned for questioning on Saturday.

The crackdown on the election officials, along with harsh criticism from the attorney general's office of the legitimacy of the results announced this week, threatens a prolonged crisis.

Deputy Attorney General Rahmatullah Nazari said in an interview that the investigations will probably "come up with a result which will definitely question the legitimacy of the recent parliamentary elections."

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced final tallies for 33 of Afghanistan's provinces on Wednesday but said technical problems had prevented it from certifying the results in the eastern province of Ghazni.

Karzai's supporters fared poorly in the elections. His ethnic group, the Pashtuns, suffered particularly in Ghazni, a majority-Pashtun province, because the Taliban insurgency prevented many people from voting. The top 11 finishers there are from the Hazara minority.

Daudzai said that the attorney general "may have meant that his assessment, his investigation, may change the result."

If the legal system finds "serious wrongdoing" in Ghazni and other provinces, Daudzai said, "then the IEC will have no choice but to announce reelection there."

Staff writers Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Greg Miller in Washington contributed to this report.

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