Taliban leaders in Afghanistan may be prepared to negotiate a ceasefire with U.S.-led NATO troops over fears of a prolonged conflict and impending civil war, according to a group of Western academics who recently held informal discussions with two former Taliban officials.
A Taliban spokesman, however, denied such claims, maintaining the group's stance that it would not engage in peace talks until foreign troops departed Afghan soil, Reuters reported.
The possibility of negotiations was presented by four professors -- Rudra Chaudhuri, Theo Farrell, and Anatol Lieven of King's College London and Michael Semple of Harvard -- who sat down for several hours of private talks with a former mujahideen commander and a former Taliban negotiator, the Guardian reported.
The academics presented their analysis of the talks at a press briefing Monday, offering a view of the Taliban that indicated a willingness to accept a long-term NATO presence in the country amid concerns that the fractured Afghan insurgency could not succeed and that the country would descend into civil war following the intended U.S. withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014.
"The report is a lie and is baseless," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters.
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"We have never wanted the Americans to stay in Afghanistan and this has always been our position."