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Against odds, a push for Afghan peace talks

Major players sharply divided as effort resumes

KABUL — Suddenly, the effort to strike a deal with the Taliban is very publicly back on the front burner.

After the process was frozen for months last year as fighting raged in Afghanistan and election-year politics consumed US attention, diplomats and political leaders from eight countries are now mounting the most concerted campaign to date to bring the Afghan government and its Taliban foes together to negotiate a peace deal.

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The latest push came early this month at Chequers, the country residence of the British prime minister, David Cameron, who joined President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan in calling for fast-track peace talks. Weeks earlier in Washington, Karzai met with President Obama and committed publicly to have his representatives meet a Taliban delegation in Doha, Qatar, to start the process.

Yet so far the renergized reach for peace has achieved little, officials say, except to cement a growing consensus that regional stability demands some sort of political settlement with the Taliban, after a war that cost tens of thousands of Afghan and Western lives.

Interviews with officials involved in the effort suggest a process that has yet to gain real traction and seems to have little chance of achieving even its most limited goal: bringing the Afghan government and Taliban leadership together at the table before most US forces leave Afghanistan in 2014.

‘‘The year 2014 has begun to be seen as a magical date, both inside and outside Afghanistan,’’ said Rangin Dadfar Spanta, the Afghan national security adviser. ‘‘It’s difficult to find what is realistic and what is illusion.’’

That is not least because the major players — Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States, and the Taliban — have fundamentally different visions of how to achieve a post-2014 peace, according to accounts of setbacks in the process.

For the Afghans, the simple act of considering what a peace deal might look like has inflamed factional differences that are still raw two decades after the country’s civil war.

The Afghan High Peace Council, which Karzai has empowered to negotiate for his government, has put forward a document called ‘‘Peace Process Roadmap to 2015.’’

While many Afghan leaders say they have not seen the proposal, first reported by the McClatchy news service in December, those who have view it as outlining a striking number of potential concessions to the Taliban and to Pakistan.

They include provisions for the Taliban’s becoming a political party and anticipation that some of the most important government positions could be open to them, including cabinet positions.

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