'One of the Taliban's most senior commanders has admitted the insurgents cannot win the war in Afghanistan and that capturing Kabul is "a very distant prospect", obliging them to seek a settlement with other political forces in the country.
In a startlingly frank interview in Thursday's New Statesman, the commander – described as a Taliban veteran, a confidant of the leadership, and a former Guantánamo inmate – also uses the strongest language yet from a senior figure to distance the Afghan rebels from al-Qaida.
"At least 70% of the Taliban are angry at al-Qaida. Our people consider al-Qaida to be a plague that was sent down to us by the heavens," the commander says. "To tell the truth, I was relieved at the death of Osama [bin Laden]. Through his policies, he destroyed Afghanistan. If he really believed in jihad he should have gone to Saudi Arabia and done jihad there, rather than wrecking our country…
As a result, he says that the Taliban has had to shelve its dream of re-establishing the Islamic emirate it set up when it was in power from 1996 to 2001. "Any side involved in a conflict like this has decided to fight for power. If they fall short of achieving national power, they have to settle for functioning as an organized party within the country," he admits."'
'The fugitive leader of the Taliban, who is one of the most wanted men in the world, could hold power if enough people voted for him, the Afghan president said.
His comments were the latest in a series of overtures from Mr Karzai to the insurgent movement which is at war with his government and its Nato backers.
He told a news conference: "I repeat my call on all Afghans, those who aren't the puppets of others and have (only) issues with us at home – they're welcome for any talks," the AFP news agency reported.
"Mullah Mohammad Omar can come inside Afghanistan anywhere he wants to. He can open political office for himself but he should leave the gun.
"He along with his friends can come and create his political party, do politics, become a candidate himself for the elections. If people voted for him, good for him, he can take the leadership in his hand." Mr Karzai routinely refers to the Taliban as his brothers and calls on them to join talks and renounce violence.'