London, Sep 28 : The Taliban has been engaged in secret talks about ending the conflict in Afghanistan in a wide-ranging 'peace process' sponsored by Saudi Arabia and supported by Britain.
The unprecedented negotiations involve a senior former member of the hardline Islamist movement traveling between Kabul, the bases of the Taliban senior leadership in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and European capitals, The Guardian reported.
Britain has provided logistic and diplomatic support for the talks despite official statements that negotiations can be held only with Taliban who are ready to renounce, or have renounced, violence.
Sources in Afghanistan confirmed the controversial talks, though they said that in recent weeks they had lost momentum.
According to Afghan government officials in Kabul, the intensity of the fighting this summer has been one factor. Another is the inconsistency of the Taliban demands.
"They keep changing what they are asking for. One day it is one thing, the next another," one Afghan government adviser with knowledge of the negotiations said.
One aim of the initiative is to drive a wedge between Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
The talks started in the summer and have been brokered by Saudi Arabia at the invitation of the Afghan government. The go-between has spent weeks ferrying lists of demands and counter-demands between the Afghan capital, Riyadh and Quetta. He has also visited London to speak to Foreign Office and MI6 personnel. A delegation from Saudi intelligence has also visited Kabul.
The Taliban are understood to have submitted a list of 11 conditions for ending hostilities, which include demands to be allowed to run key ministries and a programmed withdrawal of western troops.
In Kabul, President Hamid Karzai's national security adviser, Zalmay Rasul, has been in charge of the negotiations. It is understood that Karzai has yet to make a formal response to the demands, leading to frustration among some western officials.