KABUL, Afghanistan — 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.
The statement follows two days of informal discussions with Afghan government representatives in Qatar, at which both sides emphasized that peace talks were not on the agenda. It also came as a Taliban suicide bomber struck a bus carrying government workers, killing one person. The Taliban have ignored calls from President Ashraf Ghani for the group to join the government.
The latest Taliban statement, however, indicates 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 neighbors, 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.
The Taliban also claimed responsibility for the suicide attack early Monday in Kabul, which killed at least one person and wounded 13.
Nevertheless, an Afghan official familiar with both sides in the 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," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because details of the discussions have not been made public.
Ghani has made peace a priority since taking office in September, though previous efforts to start a dialogue stalled, largely due the lack of trust and confidence between the two sides.
In referring repeatedly to the Taliban as "political opponents," Ghani has signaled his own willingness to accommodate their "political, economic, cultural and social viewpoints, making it possible to come to direct negotiations," said the Afghan official familiar with the Doha discussions.
The Taliban statement referred to "ground realities" — that after more than 10 years of insurgency, they have not been defeated despite having fought Afghan and international forces to a stalemate.
With the departure of international combat troops at the end of 2014, Afghan forces are now fighting alone on fronts across the country and taking huge casualties.
Direct negotiations are still some years off, analysts have said. Basic logistical issues — such as removal of Taliban names from international travel black lists and the establishment of an office — still need to be addressed, the Taliban's spokesman in Qatar, Muhammad Naeem, said.
But the Afghan official said that the "Qatar meeting was beneficial for the crisis in Afghanistan to be ended. All sides expressed their views very widely and clearly. These viewpoints can encourage us toward formal meetings in the future."
Associated Press writer Abdullah Rebhy in Doha, Qatar, contributed to this story.
Follow Lynne O'Donnell on Twitter at https://twitter.com/lynnekodonnell