Three years after US-led forces invaded Afghanistan, Karzai and his US backers hope to coax lower-level Taliban fighters back to normal life, leaving senior commanders and al-Qaida leaders isolated.

Tribal leaders and regional commanders are acting as intermediaries between the Taliban and Karzai's government in the southeastern provinces of Paktia, Khost and Paktika, said Paktia governor Assad Allah Wafa.

"We have more than hundreds of Taliban who want to return to their normal lives in Khost, Paktia and Paktika provinces," Wafa said.

In return, the tribal chiefs and local officials want the US ambassador in Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad, to urge US forces not to harass Taliban members who quit the insurgency, he said.

"The government is talking to them through tribal leaders and we are demanding Khalilzad use his influence and propose to the American military not to detain or harass those Taliban who plan to stop fighting the government," Wafa said.

He said a regional delegation had travelled to Kabul hoping to meet Khalilzad, but the ambassador was away from the capital.

An embassy spokesman said Khalilzad had since left the country.

Commitment

No Taliban official could immediately be contacted for comment, but Taliban spokesman Abdul Latifi Hakimi said earlier this week the group was committed to resisting Karzai's government and US and Nato troops in Afghanistan.

A Taliban spokesman said the
talks are just for propaganda

He said the government was using the issue of talks with the Taliban as propaganda and a way of creating a rift among the fighters.

Leaders of the mainstream opposition parties fear that Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun, wants to use the proposed amnesty to strengthen his power base in the Pashtun heartlands of the south and southeast ahead of parliamentary elections due in April.

Wafa declined to identify any of the fighters he said were willing to stop fighting, but said the group that he was in contact with consisted of both senior and ordinary members of the Taliban.

The Taliban and their allies are mostly active in the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan near the areas along the Pakistan border.

Nearly 1100 people including civilians, fighters, aid workers, and foreign and Afghan troops have been killed in those regions since August 2003.