KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government on Wednesday denied reports that secret high-level talks with the Taliban had begun, although signals from various quarters suggested back-channel contacts with the insurgency were gathering momentum.
Renewed attention to the prospect of engaging the Taliban leadership in negotiations comes against a backdrop of growing violence, particularly in Afghanistan's south, where NATO forces are stepping up a confrontation with the Islamist insurgents.
Over a period of less than 48 hours on Monday and Tuesday, a series of bombings in and near Kandahar killed 13 people, as many as nine of them said to be children, and the city's deputy mayor and a former district leader were assassinated, all in attacks blamed on the Taliban.
NATO, for its part, said Wednesday that it had killed the Taliban "shadow governor" of Faryab, a northern Afghanistan province where the insurgency had become pronouncedly more active in recent months.
Karzai denounced the Kandahar bombings as the work of "enemies of Afghanistan" who had abandoned Islamic principles.
But such condemnations often go hand in hand with pleas for insurgents to come to the bargaining table.
In an emotional speech last week, shortly after a deadly attack on a provincial deputy governor, the Afghan leader referred to Taliban fighters as "compatriots," urging them to renounce violence.
With the war entering its 10th year today, reports this week by the pan-Arab satellite network Al-Jazeera and the Washington Post cited Afghan and Arab sources as saying that Taliban representatives — with the apparent blessing of the movement's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar — had embarked on talks with the Karzai government.
Karzai's deputy spokesman, Hamed Elmi, said Wednesday that there were "no contacts on the high levels" between the government and the Taliban but acknowledged that indirect lower-level talks had been taking place.