Afghanistan's new peace council said on Thursday it would be willing to make concessions to bring insurgents to the negotiating table and urged Saudi Arabia to play a key role in efforts to reconcile with the Taliban and find a political resolution to the war.
The council also repeated Kabul and Washington's longstanding demand that they renounce violence.
The High Council for Peace has been established to broker an end to a Taliban-led insurgency that has gained pace every year since the militia was overthrown from power in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
Two weeks after its inauguration, the body called on Taliban leaders to enter dialogue with the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai, pledging to listen to "legitimate demands."
"The High Council for Peace demands the armed opposition and their leaders avoid violence and join the peace process," said spokesman Qyamuddin Kashaaf, reading out the council's official message.
"The peace council will listen to their legitimate demands and build trust among all sides under a sound political process to allow Afghans to strengthen their national sovereignty through non-violent and healthy measures."
Seeking Saudi's help
The spokesman called on Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, whose country -- apart from Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates -- was the only one to recognize the Taliban's 1996-2001 regime, to help bind the Taliban into peace talks.
"We demand His Majesty the King of Saudi Arabia to use his influence with Taliban and help us in the peace process. Saudi Arabia has influence with the Taliban," he said.
Saudi Arabia once had close ties to the Taliban government that emerged victorious from Afghanistan's civil war in the early 1990s. Pakistan gave diplomatic recognition to Taliban rule in May 1997; recognition followed from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Last February, Karzai sent a small delegation of former Taliban members to Saudi Arabia to seek the kingdom's help in kick-starting talks with the Taliban. But Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said the kingdom would not get involved in peacemaking unless the Taliban severed all ties with Osama bin Laden -- a Saudi -- and his al-Qaeda terror network. That is also a key demand of both the U.S. and Afghanistan.
We demand His Majesty the King of Saudi Arabia to use his influence with Taliban and help us in the peace process. Saudi Arabia has influence with the Taliban
Afghan peace council spokesman Qyamuddin Kashaaf
Kashaaf also urged Karzai's administration and its Western military backers, a 150,000-strong U.S.-led force, to help Afghans end the violence through talks. He gave no further details.
Kashaaf, quoting Karzai, said some Taliban leaders had held talks with the Kabul administration. But he refused to give details, citing sensitivities that could endanger the process.
But some officials in Kabul who are familiar with the process have said they doubt that contacts are taking place at senior levels of either the Afghan government or the Taliban.
"There is less to this than meets the eye," one Western diplomat said, on condition of anonymity, adding that whatever contact was taking place had begun very recently.
U.S. President Barack Obama was briefed Wednesday on the latest state of the war in Afghanistan after new details emerged of fledgling reconciliation talks between Karzai's government and elements of the Taliban.
The New York Times reported that Taliban leaders at the "highest level" were involved in the contacts and that they were being offered safe passage by NATO troops from their sanctuaries in Pakistan.
The White House has backed Afghan efforts to talk with elements of the Taliban, even as the U.S. military ratchets up military operations and insurgent attacks have killed nearly 600 foreign troops so far this year.