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Taliban, Afghan Talks Flounder

  • FILE- In this Friday, Oct 26, 2012 file photo, Afghan President Hamid Karzai turns around after reviewing the guard of honor during the first day of Eid Al Adha celebrations at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan. As the clock ticks toward 2014 and the final withdrawal of NATO and U.S. troops, peace talks with the Taliban are floundering even as the Taliban are showing some hopeful signs, attending international conferences and issuing a statement from their reclusive one-eyed leader with a surprise offer to share power in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, File)

    FILE- In this Friday, Oct 26, 2012 file photo, Afghan President Hamid Karzai turns around after reviewing the guard of honor during the first day of Eid Al Adha celebrations at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan. As the clock ticks toward 2014 and the final withdrawal of NATO and U.S. troops, peace talks with the Taliban are floundering even as the Taliban are showing some hopeful signs, attending international conferences and issuing a statement from their reclusive one-eyed leader with a surprise offer to share power in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, File)

  • A Monday, Oct. 15, 2012 photo, shows a Taliban fighter from central Afghanistan who is known to the Associated Press from the time of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, but cannot be identified, is seen during an interview with the Associated Press wrapping a cloth around his face, in Kabul, Afghanistan. As the clock ticks toward 2014 and the final withdrawal of NATO and U.S. troops, peace talks with the Taliban are floundering even as the Taliban are showing some hopeful signs, attending international conferences and issuing a statement from their reclusive one-eyed leader with a surprise offer to share power in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

    A Monday, Oct. 15, 2012 photo, shows a Taliban fighter from central Afghanistan who is known to the Associated Press from the time of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, but cannot be identified, is seen during an interview with the Associated Press wrapping a cloth around his face, in Kabul, Afghanistan. As the clock ticks toward 2014 and the final withdrawal of NATO and U.S. troops, peace talks with the Taliban are floundering even as the Taliban are showing some hopeful signs, attending international conferences and issuing a statement from their reclusive one-eyed leader with a surprise offer to share power in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

  • A Monday, Oct. 15, 2012 photo, shows a Taliban fighter from central Afghanistan known to the Associated Press from the time of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan but cannot be identified, is seen during an interview with the Associated Press in Kabul, Afghanistan. As the clock ticks toward 2014 and the final withdrawal of NATO and US troops, peace talks with the Taliban are floundering even as the Taliban are showing some hopeful signs, attending international conferences and issuing a statement from their reclusive one-eyed leader with a surprise offer to share power in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

    A Monday, Oct. 15, 2012 photo, shows a Taliban fighter from central Afghanistan known to the Associated Press from the time of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan but cannot be identified, is seen during an interview with the Associated Press in Kabul, Afghanistan. As the clock ticks toward 2014 and the final withdrawal of NATO and US troops, peace talks with the Taliban are floundering even as the Taliban are showing some hopeful signs, attending international conferences and issuing a statement from their reclusive one-eyed leader with a surprise offer to share power in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

  • FILE- In this Friday, Oct 26, 2012 file photo, Afghan President Hamid Karzai turns around after reviewing the guard of honor during the first day of Eid Al Adha celebrations at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan. As the clock ticks toward 2014 and the final withdrawal of NATO and U.S. troops, peace talks with the Taliban are floundering even as the Taliban are showing some hopeful signs, attending international conferences and issuing a statement from their reclusive one-eyed leader with a surprise offer to share power in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, File)
  • A Monday, Oct. 15, 2012 photo, shows a Taliban fighter from central Afghanistan who is known to the Associated Press from the time of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, but cannot be identified, is seen during an interview with the Associated Press wrapping a cloth around his face, in Kabul, Afghanistan. As the clock ticks toward 2014 and the final withdrawal of NATO and U.S. troops, peace talks with the Taliban are floundering even as the Taliban are showing some hopeful signs, attending international conferences and issuing a statement from their reclusive one-eyed leader with a surprise offer to share power in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)
  • A Monday, Oct. 15, 2012 photo, shows a Taliban fighter from central Afghanistan known to the Associated Press from the time of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan but cannot be identified, is seen during an interview with the Associated Press in Kabul, Afghanistan. As the clock ticks toward 2014 and the final withdrawal of NATO and US troops, peace talks with the Taliban are floundering even as the Taliban are showing some hopeful signs, attending international conferences and issuing a statement from their reclusive one-eyed leader with a surprise offer to share power in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

Kabul, Afghanistan — The Afghan peace effort is floundering, fraught with mistrust and confusion among key players even though the hard-line Taliban militants show signs of softening and their reclusive, one-eyed leader made a surprise offer to share power in a post-war Afghanistan.

The U.S. and its allies hope the peace process, which began nearly two years ago, will gain traction before most international forces withdraw from the country in fewer than 23 months. But although the Taliban appear more ready to talk than ever before, peace talks remain elusive because of infighting among a rising number of interlocutors — all trying to get some kind of negotiations started.

Members of the Taliban are in contact with representatives from 30 to 40 different countries, according to senior U.S., Afghan and other officials The Associated Press interviewed in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Moreover, the relationship among the key players — the U.S., Afghanistan and Pakistan — is marked by distrust that keeps tugging momentum away from the peace process.

Many of the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the sensitive contacts with the Taliban.

Finding a path to the negotiating table will be a topic when Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan President Asif Zardari hold a series of meetings beginning today with British Prime Minister David Cameron. The meetings in London come amid fresh tensions between Kabul and its western allies.

Karzai recently warned the West not to use peace talks as a lever against his government. As well, both Kabul and Washington are frustrated that Pakistan is not monitoring the whereabouts and activities of Taliban prisoners it released in recent months. Miffed by the criticism, Pakistan says it freed the prisoners at the request of the Afghan government and doesn’t have the resources to keep tabs on them.

No one in either Pakistan or Afghanistan seems to know where the dozens of released prisoners have gone. Last week, the Taliban issued a statement by freed former Taliban Justice Minister Mullah Nooruddin Turabi on behalf of all the prisoners — an indication that at least some might have rejoined the ranks of the insurgency.

“There were no preconditions to their release and we are getting criticism from our own people inside Afghanistan about that and it is valid criticism,” said Ismail Qasemyar, a senior member of the Afghan High Peace Council.

The peace council, which Karzai set up to carry out peace negotiations, handed Pakistan the list of prisoners, including Turabi, that it wanted freed.

They have also asked for the release of the Taliban’s former second in command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, but Washington has urged Pakistan not to release him, U.S. and Afghan officials said.

For its part, the United States has tried to accelerate the peace process by working with Britain, Norway and Germany to reach out to the Taliban, said a senior Western diplomat familiar with the negotiations.

Both France and Tokyo have hosted meetings that have been attended by Afghan officials, opposition leaders and the Taliban, although the Taliban insist their participation should not be misinterpreted as negotiations.