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Hopes of peace with the Taliban

A top Afghan peace negotiator said he was cautiously optimistic about prospects for reconciliation with the Taliban and that all sides now realised a military solution to the war was not possible.

Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai also said the Kabul government hoped to transform the Afghan Taliban, who have proved resilient after more than a decade of war against US-led Nato and Afghan troops, into a political movement.

He predicted the highly lethal Haqqani militant network, the most experienced at guerrilla warfare, would join the peace process if the Afghan Taliban started formal talks.

Signs are emerging that the Afghan Government is gaining momentum in its drive to persuade the Taliban to lay down its arms before most Nato combat troops pull out by the end of 2014, a timeline that makes many Afghans nervous.

Members of the Afghan Government, the Taliban and some of its old enemies in the Northern Alliance, which fought the Taliban for years, discussed ways of easing the conflict during a meeting in France.

"I think one consensus was that nobody will win by military [means]," said Mr Stanekzai, who was badly wounded in a 2011 Taliban suicide bombing attack. "Everybody acknowledged that we have to enter into a meaningful negotiation."

Pakistan, which has long been accused of supporting Afghan insurgents such as the Taliban, has sent the strongest signals yet that it will deliver on promises of helping the Kabul Government and the US bring stability to its neighbour.

Pakistan is seen as critical to the process after three decades of upheaval in Afghanistan.

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