Taliban 'ready for peace talks'
The Taliban's political wing is ready to enter peace talks to end the war in Afghanistan, the group has said, but the insurgents will continue their armed struggle in the meantime.
The militant movement's emailed statement suggested that efforts to bring Afghan factions to the table are gathering momentum, but also highlighted some of the blocks on the way to any settlement - in particular, the Taliban's insistence that the government of President Hamid Karzai is an illegitimate "stooge" of the West.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the militants had been fighting for the past 15 years to establish an Islamic government in Afghanistan "in accordance with the request of its people".
"It is for this purpose and for bringing about peace and stability in Afghanistan that we have increased our political efforts to come to mutual understanding with the world in order to solve the current ongoing situation," Mr Mujahid said.
"But this understanding does not mean a surrender from jihad and neither is it connected to an acceptance of the constitution of the stooge Kabul administration."
One of the international community and Afghan government's conditions for reconciliation is that the Taliban must accept the Afghan constitution, meaning they must recognise Mr Karzai's government. Mr Mujahid's outright rejection of this is likely to be a key obstacle in the peace process.
For the past month, rumours have swirled about the possibility of peace talks between the US-led coalition in Afghanistan and the Taliban in the Gulf nation of Qatar.
On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared to acknowledge US efforts to jump-start a peace process with the Islamic militants to help bring an end to the decade-long war. Washington has been mulling releasing several Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay as a confidence-building measure.
Ms Clinton also indicated progress on the related effort to open a political representative office for the Taliban in Qatar, whose role as would-be host for peace talks gained reluctant approval from Mr Karzai last month.
But she said that any power-sharing deal would also have to involve insurgents renouncing violence, breaking with al Qaida and respecting Afghanistan's constitution, including rights guaranteed to women and minorities.