KABUL - Afghanistan’s Taliban demanded the release of political prisoners as one of the conditions that they said on Sunday would need to be met before they consider rejoining peace talks aimed at ending the 15-year war.

Taliban forces have stepped up their campaign in the last year to topple the Kabul government, which has struggled since most foreign troops left at the end of 2014.

The insurgents are demanding the release of an unnamed list of prisoners, to be removed from a UN blacklist freezing their assets and imposing a travel ban on its leaders, and to have a political office formally recognised.

These are “among the preliminary steps needed for peace,” the Taliban said in a statement. “Without them, progress towards peace is not feasible.”

Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul, said the Taliban have been fairly consistent in their demands and he is sceptical the latest push would yield any results.

“The demand for a release of what they call political prisoners had been on the table in earlier talks, too,” he said. The latest demands are not a sign that the “Taliban are willing to join talks anytime soon”.

The demands came a day after participants from the Taliban and former Afghan officials met in Qatar at a conference to resolve the war organised by the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, a Nobel peace prize-winning crisis group.

The rare talks are a step towards a peace process that has proved elusive during a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of Afghans since the Taliban were driven from power by a 2001 US-led military operation.

Despite efforts to restart talks, since the start of the year the Taliban have ramped up their campaign of violence across Afghanistan, with suicide attacks and territorial gains in Helmand province.

AFP adds: Members of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar launched two days of discussion with an Afghan delegation as momentum grows for the start of a formal peace process.

The militant group emphasised its hardline stance on talks aimed at ending their 14-year insurgency, ruling out negotiations until their preconditions were met.

“Before any official talks, we want names of our mujahideen to be removed from UN and US blacklists and all bounties on their heads be cancelled,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said, listing the group’s demands at the Qatar conference. “We also want our political office in Doha to be officially reopened.”

The High Peace Council - the government body tasked with negotiating with the Taliban - urged the militants to resume talks before laying out pre-conditions.

“Any preconditions could further delay the reconciliation process,” HPC official Aminuddin Muzaffari told AFP.

“The Taliban need to join the negotiating table before making such demands.”

Afghan government officials are not attending the meeting in the Gulf emirate.

But it marks a rare direct interaction between the Taliban and Afghan lawmakers and civil society members amid an international push to revive talks.

The meeting comes after delegates from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States convened in Kabul last Monday for a second round of talks seeking a negotiated end to the insurgency.

The first round of the so-called “roadmap” talks was held in Islamabad earlier this month in a bid to lay the groundwork for direct dialogue between Kabul and the Islamist group.

Taliban representatives were notably absent in both rounds and analysts caution that any substantive talks are still a long way off. Despite the push to restart talks, the Taliban have ramped up violence across Afghanistan.

Seven employees of popular Afghan TV channel TOLO were killed on Wednesday when a Taliban car bomber rammed into their minibus in Kabul, just months after the militants declared the network a legitimate “military target”.

At least 25 other people were wounded in the bombing near the Russian embassy in downtown Kabul, in the first direct assault on an Afghan media organisation since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001.