KABUL (Reuters) -- The Taliban leadership has denied a report they are negotiating with the Afghan government to end the war and the insurgents have repeated their pledge to keep fighting till foreign troops are expelled from the country.
Britain's "The Observer" newspaper reported on September 28 that the "unprecedented talks" involved a senior former Taliban member traveling between Kabul, the bases of the Taliban senior leadership in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and European capitals.
Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta on September 28 declined to confirm the report, which said the talks were being mediated by Saudi Arabia and backed by Britain.
The Taliban leadership said the report was part of a plan aimed at creating concern and mistrust between the Taliban and its supporters abroad.
It said the Al-Qaeda-backed Taliban would not resort to covert talks and would only negotiate in the interests of Islam and Afghanistan.
"Our struggle will continue until the withdrawal of foreign forces and the establishment of an independent Islamic government," said the statement sent to Reuters.
Despite the denial of talks and the hard-line rhetoric, the statement appeared to maintain a softening of the Taliban line on the Afghan government begun this year in that it did not call for the toppling of President Hamid Karzai's administration.
Karzai has led Afghanistan since U.S.-led and Afghan forces overthrew the Islamist Taliban government after it refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders behind the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Driven from power, the Taliban retreated to hideouts along the Afghan-Pakistani border, but regrouped and launched a virulent insurgency in 2005, benefiting from frustration with the presence of foreign troops and the slow pace of economic change.
This year has been the bloodiest so far with 2,500 people killed in the first six months alone, 1,000 of them civilians.
Despite the presence of some 71,000 foreign troops and more than 130,000 Afghan security forces, the Taliban have extended the scale and scope of their insurgency. Western diplomats admit there is no purely military solution to the conflict.
But talks with the Afghan Taliban have proven problematic.
"They keep changing what they are asking for. One day it is one thing, the next another," "The Observer" quoted one Afghan government adviser with knowledge of the negotiations as saying.
One aim of the initiative is to drive a wedge between Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the paper said.