KABUL Afghanistan's government has failed to secure direct talks with the Taliban and no significant progress is expected before 2014, when most NATO combat troops withdraw, a senior Afghan official closely involved with reconciliation efforts said on Friday.
"No breakthrough is expected before the 2014 election," the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A political settlement between the Afghan government and insurgents is widely seen as the best way of delivering stability to the country before most NATO combat troops pull out at the end of 2014.
Afghan officials were also hoping to make progress in reconciliation efforts before presidential elections in April of 2014 to decrease the chances of prolonged instability in a nation that has suffered through decades of war.
"There have been contacts here and there but no face-to-face talks have taken place," the Afghan official said of the bid to engage the Taliban.
"There have been none in Afghanistan or other countries."
There has also been scant progress on other fronts. The Taliban said in March they were suspending nascent peace talks with the United States held in Qatar, blaming "erratic and vague" U.S. statements.
The Afghan official suggested the contacts that have been made with the Taliban have been limited.
"The contacts have taken place mostly at the provincial level. For instance, an official may meet Taliban commanders and urge them not to attack schools," he said.
BANKING ON PAKISTAN
Regional power Pakistan, which has a long history of ties to Afghan insurgent groups, was in a strong position to help stabilise Afghanistan but needed to do more than issue statements of support, said the official.
Afghan officials have often seen Pakistan as a reluctant partner in attempts to broker talks with the Taliban. Islamabad denies accusations that it uses Afghan insurgent groups as proxies in Afghanistan and had pledged to do all it can to end the fighting.
"In practice, they need to facilitate faster," said the official, adding that Afghanistan's High Peace Council would soon present Pakistan with a roadmap on how it could help bring peace.
In August, senior officials from both countries said Afghan officials have held secret talks wit the Taliban's former second in command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who is in detention in Pakistan.
Afghan officials, hopeful that direct contact with top Taliban commanders could give them the most leverage in any peace talks, want Islamabad to hand over Baradar and other Afghan Taliban leaders they say are in Pakistan.
"Mullah Baradar can be useful when he is released. He was the number two Taliban leader so he still has influence," said the Afghan official.
Afghanistan is known to want access to Taliban leaders belonging to the so-called Quetta Shura, or council, named after the Pakistani city where they are believed to be based.
Pakistan has consistently denied giving sanctuary to insurgents and says no Taliban leaders are in Quetta.
Pakistani officials have said they would urge all Afghan insurgents to pursue peace, including the Haqqani network. The faction, allied with the Taliban and operating on northwest Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, is seen as the most lethal Afghan militant group.
On Monday, the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on the Haqqani network, and Washington has designated it a terrorist organisation.
The Afghan official expressed caution over the U.N. move, which he said would deepen the isolation of a group blamed for some of the most high-profile attacks in Afghanistan.
"There have been some contacts with the Haqqanis in the past. The U.N. listing of the Haqqanis will make it difficult for the High Peace Council to keep contact with them," he said.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)
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