Afghan government representatives have held secret talks with a key member of the Taliban held in a Pakistani jail, an official said on Monday -- a move that could signal fresh hope for peace negotiations.
The representatives visited Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a powerful Taliban military chief who has been described as the insurgents' second in command, and discussed peace talks with him, the Afghan official said.
Baradar, whose 2010 arrest in Pakistan was blamed for sabotaging peace initiatives, is the most important Taliban leader held in prison and was known as a trusted aide to the militants' elusive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
"Afghan government officials and members of Afghan embassy in Pakistan held secret talks with him (Baradar) in prison two months ago in Pakistan," Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, a member of Afghanistan's High Peace Council told AFP.
"They talked to him about peace negotiations.
"The Afghan government has also asked the Pakistani authorities to release him because he has shown interest in peace talks with the government of Afghanistan," Qasimyar said.
At the time of his arrest the Afghan government and the former UN envoy to Afghanistan said his detention had adversely affected efforts to talk to the insurgents in a bid to end the decade-long war.
Pakistan's foreign ministry confirmed Friday that it was in talks with Afghanistan on Baradar's release, but a senior security official told AFP that no decision had been reached to free him.
"The Afghan government has asked the Pakistani government several times to release not only Mullah Baradar but also those other Taliban leaders who are jailed in Pakistan," Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai said.
"But unfortunately we have not seen any positive response from the Pakistani side. The Pakistani authorities officially said they will cooperate with us but they haven't."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has long sought to negotiate with the Taliban but the Islamist militia has in public refused to deal with his administration, branding it an American puppet.
Earlier this year the Taliban also announced they had abandoned contact with US officials aimed at securing a prisoner swap as a first step towards peace talks in the Gulf state of Qatar.
Pakistan has said it will do anything required by Kabul to support an Afghan-led peace process, but there is a wide degree of scepticism in Afghanistan and the United States about the sincerity of the former Taliban ally.
The US leads a 130,000-strong NATO force against the Taliban, who were toppled from power in a 2001 invasion for harbouring Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.
But they are due to withdraw from the increasingly unpopular war by the end of 2014 and any sort of peace talks before that would allow the West to claim that the long war has brought some stability to the country.
Without that, there is widespread fear that the Taliban will make gains against the ill-prepared Afghan security forces and that the country will once more plunge into a multi-factional civil war.
The Taliban are far from defeated on the battlefield. NATO has noted an 11 percent increase in attacks since the launch of the militants' annual summer offensive over the same period last year.