Some factions within the Afghan Taleban are considering taking part in a peace process that officials from Afghanistan and Pakistan aim to revive next week, several senior members said, in a softening of the militants' recent stance against talks.
Next week's meeting in Islamabad between officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and China is intended as the first step towards resuming stalled negotiations aimed at ending the 14-year-old war that costs hundreds of lives each month and has intensified during the past year.
Whether the Taleban would eventually join the talks is far from clear. Even if it did, those present would represent only part of the Islamist militant movement fighting to topple the government in Kabul and restore the strict Islamic rule in place before it was ousted in 2001.
But important elements of the Taleban have signalled that they may be willing to send negotiators at some point. One Taleban commander said preparations had gone as far as choosing a team, including two members of the Taleban's office in Qatar, but others were more cautious.
"We may do it after the venue, time and terms and conditions for the proposed talks are decided by these four countries first," said one senior member of a group of Taleban leaders based in the Pakistani city of Quetta.
Afghan officials say the meeting schedule does not include any Taleban representation, but they do not rule out the possibility of the group joining at some stage.
With security worsening, Kabul is trying to limit expectations of a breakthrough and says the aim of next week's talks is to work out a road map for peace negotiations and a way of assessing whether they remain on track.
"This will help Afghanistan and our partners to measure the tangibility and sincerity of efforts taken by the parties," President Ashraf Ghani's spokesman said in an e-mailed response to questions.
Straits Times, January 9, 2016