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Why NATO and the Taliban are stepping up the fight - even as talks get under way

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Many close observers agree that a major step has taken place in the peace process. Mr. Karzai's announcement merely referenced what had leaked a month ago, says Michael Semple, an informal mediator in the Afghan talks. Der Spiegel had reported meetings between a deputy of Mullah Omar named Tayyab Agha and US representatives from the State Department and CIA.

“The key difference with this [set of talks] was these were properly mandated officials from both sides. Even if they haven’t progressed very far on the agenda, the fact that they have credentials makes this more important than previous indirect contacts,” says Mr. Semple.

Previous discussions between Taliban and international figures were limited by uncertainty regarding the authority of those involved and the filtering of messages through intermediaries. In the fog of this type of early dialogue, NATO once brought a “Taliban representative” to Kabul who turned out to be an imposter.

The current talks, while direct, remain shrouded in secrecy even to allies and underlings on all sides. The peace process will eventually need to involve a much broader range of stakeholders.

Is the Afghanistan government involved in talks?

The Afghan government’s High Peace Council is not participating in the US-Taliban talks at the moment, and may not even be privy to its details.

“I don’t have any details of this process that is going on between the Taliban and the Afghan government,” says Moulabi Attaullah Loudin, a member of the council. “It is a separate process, but it’s good for us.”

Whole factions of the insurgency also don't appear to be involved in these talks, including the hard-line Haqqani network as well as the more flexible Hizb-e-Islami faction led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

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