The US, Pakistan and Afghanistan are holding three-way secret talks with the Taliban, which is reportedly seeking peace.

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, said: "There have been contacts between the US government and the Taliban, there have been contacts between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and there have been some contacts that we have made, all of us together, including the Taliban."

"The Afghan Taliban are willing to talk. The problem is Pakistan is trying to control and monopolise them. The fact that an office is opening in Qatar means taking the Taliban out of Pakistan's control and let them engage in peace talks independently."

- Aminullah Habibi, a research fellow at the UK Defence Academy

Barack Obama, the US president, set the deadline to end a decade-long US-led war started in 2001 under the previous US administration.

This is the latest move ahead of a US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan scheduled for the end of this year.

The talks serve as a step towards ending the decade-long war that the US and its allies have been embroiled in since right after the September 11, 2001, attacks against the US.

The Taliban had previously been against holding talks with the US-backed Afghan government.

The group has been one of the biggest obstacles to peace in the country.  It had joined forces with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to fight the West.

But with bin Laden on the run, and then finally killed by an American force last May, engaging the Taliban to end the conflict has become a more viable option.

In January, Obama reiterated NATO's planned withdrawal by 2014 and that announced the US was holding discussions with the Taliban.

"Relations between Pakistan and the Taliban are old and deep-rooted. Pakistan's influence and backing is clear, it is a neighbouring country, the [predominantly] Pashtun population straddle both sides of the border. So Pakistan has a vested interest, a national interest and a historical interest."

- Syed Tariq Pirzada, a political analyst and columnist for Frontier Post

A number of US Officials say their country wants to accelerate its fragile talks with the Taliban so it can announce serious peace negotiations at a NATO summit in May.

Successful negotiations would boost the US efforts in Afghanistan as it struggles to contain a resilient insurgency and train a local Afghan army.

Last month, France, for its part, announced that it would pull out its troops a year ahead of the planned NATO withdrawal, and proposed handing over complete power to Afghan troops by 2013.

Currently only half of Afghanistan's population is in areas controlled by Afghan troops, while officials say the most troubled areas remain under the control of international forces.

Karzai is now in Islamabad for regional talks with Pakistan and Iran. He hopes to pressure Pakistan into dealing with its own branch of the Taliban.

During a meeting on Thursday, Karzai and Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, discussed the reconciliation process within Afghanistan, among a host of other issues.

Tensions between the two countries have often been sparked by cross-border attacks.

Karzai had used the killing of bin Laden not far from the Pakistani capital to point fingers at his neighbour, saying that Islamabad was not doing enough to help with counter-terrorism efforts.

And Pakistan has complained of being side-stepped in Taliban talks between Afghanistan and the US in Qatar, where the group hopes to open an office.

The latest round of talks is another attempt to stabilise Afghanistan before its troops take charge of their own security.

So, just what are these talks about? And could they lead to real peace in this war-torn country?

Joining presenter Adrian Finighan on Inside Story to discuss these issues are guests: Waheed Omer, a former spokesperson to the Afghan president and a political commentator; Syed Tariq Pirzada, a political analyst and columnist for Frontier Post; and Aminullah Habibi, a research fellow at the UK Defence Academy.

"The assumption is that NATO is trying to strike a deal no matter at what cost. The message so far is that the Americans and the Taliban are meeting, and the Americans and NATO are trying to strike a deal before they leave, which could put the Afghan people and their will in jeopardy."

Waheed Omer, a former Karzai spokesperson and political activist

Source: Al Jazeera