British intelligence officers were blamed yesterday for bringing an impostor to take part in peace talks with Afghan president Hamid Karzai, under the mistaken impression that he was a high-level Taliban commander.
Mr Karzai's chief of staff Mohammad Umer Daudzai told the Washington Post that an Afghan at the meeting realised the man was not who he claimed to be, and he was later uncovered as a shopkeeper from the Pakistani town of Quetta.
Mr Daudzai said that Britain and other European countries “are in haste” to promote a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan so their troops can be withdrawn, and said foreigners were getting too “excited” about potential breakthroughs.
“This shows that this process should be Afghan-led and fully Afghanised,” said Mr Daudzai.”
Meanwhile, The Times claimed that MI6 paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to the man in order to keep the talks on track. Downing Street and the Foreign Office declined to comment on the reports yesterday morning.
By any diplomatic or military yardstick the tale of an imposter pretending to be the Taliban's chief negotiator was a disaster. What gives it added bathos is that peace talks with the insurgency is a central element in the West's exit strategy from the war and what has taken place brings the process into question.