PARIS — Authorities in London withheld a formal response on Friday to a reported accusation by a senior Afghan official that the British introduced an impostor posing as a high Taliban commander into the presidential palace in Kabul to meet President Hamid Karzai.
News of the embarrassing ruse emerged earlier this week in an article in The New York Times saying that a man identifying himself as Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement, had held three meetings withNATO and Afghan officials, encouraging hopes of a negotiated settlement to the nine-year-old war.
The fake Taliban leader even met with President Karzai, after being flown to Kabul on a NATO aircraft and ushered into the presidential palace, officials said told The New York Times.
The episode underscored the uncertain and even bizarre nature of the atmosphere in which Afghan and American leaders are searching for ways to bring the American-led war to an end.
In its Friday editions, The Washington Post quoted President Karzai’s chief of staff as saying the British introduced the impostor and warning that foreigners should not get involved in negotiations with the Taliban.
The chief of staff, Mohammad Umer Daudzai, was quoted saying said that unidentified British officials brought the impostor to meet Mr. Karzai in July or August. Afghan intelligence later determined that the visitor was actually a shopkeeper from the Pakistani city of Quetta.
His remarks seemed to reflect a growing hostility among Afghan officials toward Western diplomatic interference in Afghan policy matters, despite the billions of dollars spent by the international coalition to support the Karzai government.
Asked to comment on the report on Friday, a spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office in London said only: “We do not comment on operational matters.”
But, if borne out, the report would come at a delicate time for the British intelligence services, under pressure to be more open about their operations and likely to be deeply embarrassed by the spectacle of being duped in a country where they devote much attention to intelligence-gathering.
Only last month, Sir John Sawers, the head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, highlighted cooperation between British and American spy agencies “an especially powerful contributor to U.K. security.”
While there had been whispers in Washington that the British had introduced the impostor, Mr. Daudzai’s comments were the most direct assignation of blame for the debacle, The Washington Post said. It also said that American officials have “long characterized the British as more aggressive than the Americans in pushing for a political settlement to end the war.