Senior Taliban commanders, who were in hiding in Pakistan, have been escorted back into Afghanistan by allied forces for negotiations over ending the war, it was reported last night.
alks are being held between the inner circle of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and members of the Quetta shura, the Taliban leadership, according to The New York Times.
Some exiled Taliban were taken from Pakistan to Kabul on a NATO aircraft after assurances that they would be protected, it was reported, while others had roads into Afghanistan cleared by allied forces.
Members of the hardline Haqqani network of insurgents are also said to have held talks with officials from the Afghan government.
The US government had acknowledged that talks had begun but the seniority of those involved was not previously known.
"When the Taliban see that they can travel in the country without being attacked by the Americans, they see that the government is sovereign, that they can trust us," an Afghan official was quoted as saying.
The newspaper said it was withholding the names of the Taliban involved at the request of The White House, in order to prevent the possibility of retribution from Afghans opposed to a settlement.
For the same reason, it is claimed, the talks are being organised and held without the knowledge of the Pakistani authorities. The ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service, has close ties to some insurgent groups.
Mullah Omar, the "spiritual leader" of The Taliban and the unofficial ruler of Afghanistan in the years prior to the 2001 invasion, has also been sidelined by the new Afghan government.