The contacts, however, have not yielded any tangible deal and have not progressed as far as opening negotiations for one but the development explains a string of actions by Karzai that seem intended to antagonize his American backers, the New York Times reported, citing Western and Afghan officials.

In recent weeks, Karzai has continued to refuse to sign a long-term bilateral security agreement post-2014 with the US that he negotiated and has instead insisted on releasing hardened Taliban militants from prison.

He also has been spreading distorted evidence of so called "American war crimes", the NYT added.

"The clandestine contacts with the Taliban have borne little fruit...But they have helped undermine the remaining confidence between the US and Karzai, making the already messy endgame of the Afghan conflict even more volatile.”

"Support for the war effort in Congress has deteriorated sharply, and American officials say they are uncertain whether they can maintain even minimal security cooperation with Karzai’s government or its successor after coming elections," the paper added.

Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi acknowledged the secret contacts with the Taliban and said they were continuing.

"The last two months have been very positive," Faizi said characterizing the contacts as among the most serious the presidential palace has had since the war began.

"These parties were encouraged by the president's stance on the bilateral security agreement and his speeches afterwards," he said.

However, Afghan and Western officials have said that the contacts had fizzled, and that the Taliban had no intention any more of negotiating with the Afghan government.

They said top Afghan officials had met with influential Taliban leaders in Dubai and in Riyadh in recent weeks, and were told that any prospects of a peace deal were now gone.

Western and Afghan officials said that the secret contacts were apparently initiated by Taliban last November, and Karzai seemed to "jump at what he believed was a chance to achieve what the Americans were unwilling or unable to do, and reach a deal to end the conflict — a belief that few in his camp shared."

It remains unclear whether the Taliban ever intended to seriously pursue negotiations, or were using the garb of separate secret talks to derail the security agreement with the US by distracting Karzai and leading him on, it added.

With the Afghan national elections due in April, an orderly transition of power in Afghanistan that can contain the insurgency on its own would be the culmination of everything that the US has tried to achieve in the country.


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