Britain is in secret talks with the Taliban in an attempt to instill peace in the war-torn Afghanistan, it has been revealed.
Agents from British secret service MI6 have staged discussions with senior insurgents in Afghanistan on several occasions in the recent past, The Daily Telegraph reported here on Wednesday.
"The SIS officers were understood to have sought peace directly with the Taliban with them coming across as some sort of armed militia. The British would also provide 'mentoring' for the Taliban," an intelligence source was quoted as saying.
The disclosure came only a fortnight after Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the House of Commons: "We will not enter into any negotiations with these people."
According to the daily, MI6's meetings with the Taliban took place up to half-a-dozen times at houses on the outskirts of Lashkah Gah and in villages in the Upper Gereshk valley, to the north-east of Helmand's main town.
The compounds were surrounded by a force of British infantry providing a security cordon. To maintain the stance that Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government was leading the negotiations, "the clandestine meetings took place in the presence of Afghan officials".
"These meetings were with up to a dozen Taliban or with Taliban who had only recently laid down their arms. The impression was that these were important motivating figures inside the Taliban," the unnamed intelligence source said.
Opposition leaders in Britain have said that the Prime Minister had to respond to the report as he had pledged that Britain would not negotiate with terrorists.
"If this turns out to be untrue, the Prime Minister will have some explaining to do to the British public," Liam Fox, the Shadow Defence Secretary, said.