A RUSI paper examining Taliban Perspectives on Reconciliation, written by Michael Semple, Theo Farrell, Anatol Lieven and Rudra Chaudhuri, can be found here.
Like Semple's last paper, it relies on his extensive contacts with elements of the Taliban leadership to explore three issues: Taliban links to al-Qaeda; the potential for a ceasefire and the continuing presence of US forces in the country.
Last time round, in July, the Taliban wasted no time in characterising Semple's contact as "mentally insane" for suggesting that many Taliban supporters regarded al-Qaeda as a "plague".
This time, the four unnamed Taliban figures interviewed say that the organisation's leadership and base deeply regret their past association with al-Qaeda and that they would obey a call by Mullah Omar to renounce any links and prevent them operating on Afghan soil. They are even willing to allow US forces to stay on Afghan soil under certain circumstances.
It is clear that there is a strong faction within the Taliban that is willing to discuss a ceasefire. Only yesterday, in a statement issued to mark the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban reiterated its attitude towards al-Qaeda: "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
once again clarifies to the entire world including America that we are
neither a threat to anyone nor will we let our soil be used to harm
anyone. It is our due legal and religious right to defend our homeland
and establish in it an Islamic system and we shall continue with our
sacred struggle and Jihad against the invaders until we attain this
right and we sincerely believe in being victorious in achieving this
ambition and defeating the enemy."
The only thing now holding up negotiations is the American political process, where it is considered bad form to negotiate important deals that a successor administration may have to implement. Even if he is re-elected, Obama's team will no doubt waste further months attempting to ensure any settlement does not look like a military defeat for US forces.
Update: Predictably, the Taliban quickly issued a statement denying that it was willing to accept the presence of US troops in Afghanistan, calling it "fatuous jibber-jabber". The statement continued: "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan strongly
condemns this malicious and strictly propaganda based report of the said
think-tank and declares it has no plans of prolonging the American
invasion of Afghanistan even for a single day.
national interests, national pride and values forbid us from making such
illegitimate deals or agreeing to the continuation of invasion or
accepting their revolting presence due to fear and our own safety. We
believe that this report by the so called think-tank, based on the
opinions of a few anonymous faces, is fabricated and consider it the
direct work and move of the intelligence circles prepared for its people
and for raising the moral of its defeated troops."