Taliban militants who have been waging war on the Afghan government for more than a decade on Monday expressed a willingness to soften their position on a range of issues, an apparent shift that could eventually lead to peace talks.
But despite those positive signs following two days of informal talks in Qatar, a wave of Taliban attacks targeting police checkpoints late night in the remote Afghan province of Badakhshan, killed at least 16 policemen.
The insurgents said in a statement to media that the assaults were part of their annual spring offensive, which began late last month. And on Monday morning, a Taliban suicide bomber struck a bus carrying government workers in the capital, Kabul, killing one person and wounding 13.
The Taliban also claimed responsibility for that bombing. The attacks underscored just how elusive peace is after decades of war in this Central Asian country.
During the informal discussions between Afghan government representatives and those of the Taliban in Qatar, both sides emphasised that peace talks were not on the agenda.
The Taliban have so far ignored calls from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for the group to join the government. However, their statement following Qatar meetings indicated flexibility on previously intractable issues such as the presence of the foreigners in Afghanistan and acceptance of a constitution.
"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan once again as a policy clearly states that it does not want to harm others and also won't allow anyone to use Afghan soil against others," it said, using the group's formal name.
The statement said that "for the happiness of the nation" the group wants "cooperation in all sectors with all countries, including neighbours, and welcomes the efforts of anyone in bringing peace to Afghanistan."
The Taliban launched their annual warm-weather offensive on April 24 with an attack on the northern city of Kunduz, which took the government and military by surprise.
Nevertheless, an Afghan official familiar with both sides in the Qatar discussions, said that "in spite of the fierce fighting and very bad situation here, the tone from both sides is positive." "It is a good starting point. We will ask them to go ahead prudently and wisely to find a political solution rather than intensify military activity, which is causing the loss of innocent life," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because details of the discussions have not been made public.