Taliban commanders 'ready to talk'
There are encouraging signs that senior Taliban commanders may be ready to enter talks with Afghan authorities about ending their insurgency, the Foreign Office has said.
Recent months have seen a number of "feelers" from insurgents in response to president Hamid Karzai's offer of reconciliation talks without preconditions, said a senior Foreign Office official.
The official cautioned that no big breakthrough was expected imminently, but said that the Taliban figures involved were "sufficiently senior" for the development to be seen as significant.
President Karzai's drive to reintegrate Taliban fighters into mainstream Afghan society is a key plank of his strategy for the Kabul government to take over security responsibility for the whole of the country by the end of 2014.
But it suffered a major setback in November when a man claiming to be the Taliban's second-ranking mullah was exposed as an impostor, following meetings with Afghan government and Nato officials, facilitated by the UK.
The humiliating scam raised fears that efforts to establish lines of communication with the Taliban leadership were failing and that the reconciliation drive was attracting only foot soldiers with no wider influence on the insurgency.
The London Conference on Afghanistan a year ago gave Mr Karzai authority to pursue reconciliation and reintegration talks with the Taliban, and the establishment of a High Peace Council in September offered a formal route for meetings.
But the Foreign Office official suggested that progress may come more quickly from the informal approaches now being made in the south of the country.
The process may gain momentum in the summer, when Taliban predictions of a withdrawal of international troops fail to materialise.
Keeping up military pressure will play a key role in "taking the wind out of the sails of Taliban rhetoric" and encouraging insurgents to seek a political solution, said the official.