|Afghanistan's peace council has been tasked with brokering a peace deal with the Taliban to end the war [AFP]
Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has confirmed unofficial talks between his government and the Taliban aimed at ending the nine-year conflict have been going on for "quite some time".
"We have been talking to the Taliban as countryman to countryman, talk in that manner," Karzai told CNN's Larry King when asked about media reports of "secret high level talks" between the two sides.
Karzai said that contact with the anti-government group was not regular "but rather unofficial personal contacts [that] have been going on for quite time".
His comments came hours after it was announced that Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan president, had been selected as chairman of the newly formed peace council, tasked with brokering an end to the war with the Taliban.
Karzai praised the choice, saying Rabbani's leadership would be "good for Afghanistan".
After being appointed, Rabbani insisted he was optimistic that a deal could be found.
"Peace is not impossible," he said. "We'll achieve it with the help of God, but we need each others support and hard work.
"I am hopeful that this difficult task, which we have been appointed with, will become easy for us and we will be able to take a step forward for the welfare of our people and stability in our country."
Rabbani was one of a group of mujahidin leaders who fought the Soviet Union in the 1980s and was Afghanistan's president between 1992 and 1996, when he was ousted by the Taliban.
The 70-member panel, which formally began work on Thursday, was created by Karzai to have a structure in place to guide talks with the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
"How much longer can we wait for foreigners to establish security for us? How much longer can we witness explosions in our mosques and see our leaders killed?" Rabbani said, as he accepted the position. "Peace will come when we co-operate."?
Karzai told CNN that Rabbani's council would not reach out to al-Qaeda or other "terrorist networks" in its pursuit of political reconciliation in Afghanistan.
"Whether they are against Afghanistan or whether they are al-Qaeda and the terrorist war against the United States or our neighbours in Pakistan, those of course cannot be accepted."
In a stark reminder of the scale of the challenge facing the peace council, at least seven people, including two Nato troops were killed by roadside bombs on Sunday.
Five members of a family died in a roadside blast in eastern Paktia province, while Nato troops were killed in an explosion on a highway in southern Afghanistan, the military alliance said, without giving their nationalities or a specific location.
Sunday's deaths, which have brought to 26 the number of Nato forces killed this month, came a day after four Italian troops died in a roadside blast in western Farah province. At least 2,014 Nato troops have died since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, according to an Associated Press count.
In a separate incident, a joint force was ambushed with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades in southern Helmand province's Sangin district on Sunday. Troops returned fire and called in an airstrike, killing more than 15 anti-government fighters, Nato said.
The Taliban has said publicly that it will not enter into dialogue with the government until all 152,000 US-led foreign troops based in the country leave.
In a statement last Thursday marking the start of the war in 2001, the Taliban claimed to control 75 per cent of Afghanistan and said its "jihad" remained as strong as ever.