Afghan and Western officials are reported as saying that a top Taliban leader involved in secret peace talks with the Afghan government was in fact an impostor. The New York Times says the fake negotiator also met with President Hamid Karzai in Kabul. But the president has denied meeting the purported Taliban leader.
Unidentified officials are quoted as saying the fake Taliban negotiator identified himself as Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, a prominent commander of the insurgents.
The man held three meetings with Afghan and NATO officials and was also flown to Kabul in a NATO aircraft for talks with President Karzai.
Speaking to reporters in the Afghan capital, Karzai said he did not meet with anyone named Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, telling reporters not to accept "propaganda" from foreign media. Karzai however, acknowledged that his government had been in indirect contact with the Taliban.
But the fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar last week again ruled out talks with the Afghan government until all foreign troops have left the country.
The Karzai government's attempts to engage Taliban insurgents in peace talks are part of a wider plan to bring an end to the nine-year-old war in Afghanistan that has gained intensity this year.
Afghanistan's western supporters, including the United States have backed Karzai's reconciliation efforts in the wake of rising casualties on all sides.
But the reported claims that the Taliban negotiator was in fact a fraud, has apparently dealt a blow to the internationally-backed peace efforts.
The development comes as Afghan election officials have said they will announce on Wednesday the final results of the September parliamentary polls.
President Karzai on Tuesday expressed hope that the election results will strengthen efforts to stabilize the country.
"Well, destabilization of the country I am sure will not happen and we will not allow that," he said. "But of course we want an election that will reflect the aspirations of the Afghan people that will further democracy into consolidation and that will unite the Afghan people."
The election for the 249-seat Afghan parliament was held on September 18 and the final results were due late last month. But authorities withheld them pending investigations into more than 5,000 complaints of fraud.
Election officials have already canceled nearly a quarter of the 5.6 million votes polled and disqualified 19 candidates who were initially declared winners.
Fraud and rigging also marred President Karzai's own re-election in last year's presidential polls.
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