LONDON Some Taliban figures are ready to negotiate a comprehensive peace deal involving a long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, but will not accept Hamid Karzai's government, the Guardian reported on Monday.
Citing a report to be published by the Royal United Services Institute, the British newspaper said the Taliban was determined to make a decisive break with al-Qaida as part of a settlement and was open to negotiation about education for girls.
"The Taliban would be open to negotiating a ceasefire as part of a general settlement, and also as a bridge between confidence-building measures and the core issue of the distribution of political power in Afghanistan," the Guardian quoted the report as saying.
RUSI said its report, entitled "Taliban Perspectives on Reconciliation", was based on interviews with four unnamed Taliban figures, two of whom were ministers in the former Taliban government and are still close to the inner circle of leadership.
One interviewee, described as a founder member of the Taliban, said the group might accept continuing U.S. counter-terrorist operations targeting al-Qaida as long as the bases for them were not used as a launching pad for attacks on other countries or for interference in Afghan politics.
The report said that from the Taliban's point of view, any ceasefire would need strong Islamic justification and could not hint at any form of surrender.
The Taliban has long been opposed to negotiating with Karzai's government and does not recognize Afghanistan's constitution approved in 2003.
However, U.S. officials have said that they see signs that insurgent hostility to peace talks may be splintering.
With violence in Afghanistan at its worst levels since U.S.-backed forces ousted the Taliban in 2001, the West is eager to pursue such negotiations, given plans to withdraw most of a currently 100,000-strong NATO-led foreign force by the end of 2014.
(Reporting by Stephen Mangan; Editing by David Brunnstrom)