'Secret talks' to end Afghan war
Secret talks aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan have begun between representatives of the Taliban and the government of Afghan president Hamid Karzai, according to a report in The Washington Post.
Afghan and Arab sources cited by the Post said they believe for the first time that Taliban representatives are fully authorised to speak for the Quetta Shura, the Afghan Taliban organisation based in Pakistan, and its leader, Mohammad Omar, according to the newspaper.
Omar's representatives have shunned negotiations in the past, insisting that all foreign troops withdraw first.
However, the Post reported that its sources said the Quetta Shura has begun to talk about a comprehensive agreement that would include participation of some Taliban figures in the government and the withdrawal of US and Nato troops.
Mr Karzai has long said he will talk to insurgents if they renounce violence, sever ties to terrorists and embrace the Afghan constitution.
The top US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, said last week that Taliban leaders have made overtures to reconcile with the Afghan government.
"There are very high-level Taliban leaders who have sought to reach out to the highest levels of the Afghan government and indeed have done that," Gen Petraeus told reporters in Afghanistan.
Reconciling with Taliban leaders is being "pursued by the Afghan leadership at the very highest levels," he added.
The Afghan government last week also set up a 70-member peace council, formalizing efforts to reconcile with Taliban leaders and lure insurgent foot soldiers off the battlefield.
Waheed Omar, a spokesman for Mr Karzai, denied that President Barack Obama's stated goal of beginning to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan in July 2011, if conditions allow, spurred the Afghan government to set up the council or reach out to the Taliban.