The killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by an elite US team has sapped Taliban morale and encouraged fighters to join peace talks, while piling pressure on insurgent leaders living in Pakistan, an Afghan intelligence official said on Wednesday.
Lutfullah Mashal, spokesman for the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan's intelligence service, also warned however that opposition to peace talks among powerful factions in Pakistan, where key insurgent groups fighting in Afghanistan are based, would slow progress in negotiations.
Taliban fighters were demoralised by news that the man who masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks was living in relative suburban comfort while they risked all in Afghanistan's inhospitable mountains and deserts, he said.
"The Afghan Taliban have realised that al Qaeda is not fighting for Islam and for Allah," he told a news conference in the Afghan capital.
"They live under patronage of intelligence agencies and have comfortable lives and the poor Afghan Taliban die every day in clashes with Afghan forces," he said, apparently referring to Pakistani intelligence services as bin Laden's protector.
Many people question how Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency could have failed to pick up that the United States' most wanted man was living on the doorstep of an elite military academy a couple of hours drive from the capital.
The Afghan Taliban, when they acknowledged bin Laden's death in a statement days after it was announced, said that it would only revitalise their fight against "occupiers" in Afghanistan.
But Mashal said the government was seeing a steady flow of fighters wanting to join the peace process.
"The realisation of these fact have encouraged Taliban who join the peace process in groups every day," he said.
Problems in Pakistan
But he warned that Pakistan, which fears a settlement in Afghanistan that leaves its influence diminished or bitter rival India more influential, may not smooth the way for talks.
"The Afghan Taliban who join peace process face direct or indirect problems," Mashal said, adding that reports suggest Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a top Taliban figure detained over a year ago had been seized because of his interest in talks.
"Unfortunately there are certain elements in Pakistan that support and lead terrorist elements."
Violence in Afghanistan last year reached its worst levels in almost 10 years with record casualties on all sides. The United States and its allies have reluctantly thrown their support behind an Afghan government plan to negotiate with the insurgents as they look to withdraw from the war.
One of the preconditions set by Washington and Kabul before talks can begin is that Taliban-led insurgents renounce their association with al Qaeda. The Taliban have publicly rebuffed the idea of talks, demanding foreign troops leave the country.
The Taliban gave sanctuary to bin Laden in Afghanistan until their government was toppled by US-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.
Bin Laden and the Taliban leadership, headed by Mullah Mohammad Omar, then evaded US teams hunting them in mountainous east Afghanistan and fled into Pakistan.
Analysts say Taliban leaders in Afghanistan have already been trying to distance themselves from al Qaeda, and links between the two groups had diminished over the years even as the insurgency gained momentum.